U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) researchers say they have identified a process that could lead to new methods of engineering plant oils for use in renewable chemical and biofuel production.
Researchers at the agency's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., and their collaborators at the Karolinaska Institute in Sweden reported this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the discovery of how enzymes select specific locations along hydrocarbon chains to inset double bonds that desaturate fatty acids in plants.
Said Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin: "Using what we've now learned, I am optimistic we can redesign enzymes to achieve new desirable specificities to produce novel fatty acids in plants. These novel fatty acids would be a renewable resource to replace raw materials now derived from petroleum."
The science would be a boon to biofuel and green chemical companies, especially dual-focused outfits like Solazyme Inc. (Nasdaq: SZYM), which uses algae to produce biodiesel, industrial chemicals, cooking oil and skin care products; and Gevo, Inc. (Nasdaq: GEVO), a leader in the Ethanol and isobutanol-derived fuel business that is increasingly pusuing environmentally-friendly substitutes for petroleum-based paints, coatings, solvents and substances used in plastics.
The Biofuels Market 2011-2021, published this week by Visiongain, estimates that the global expenditure on biofuels this year will reach $46.63 billion, while a Pike Research report in June projected the global green chemical market to grow from $2.8 billion in 2011 to $98.5 billion by 2020.
Washington has mandated that by 2022 U.S. fuel output must include 36 billion gallons of biofuels annually.
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