By Rubina Obaid
As plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thinking about using plant material in a biorefinery to ensure every carbon atom that plants trap as the part of their bodies would turn out a useful target molecule. The process can be considered as a pathway of ending economic dependence on fossil fuels.
Attaining sustainable renewable energy through wood biomass carries the crown of precisely targeting the climate neutrality goals. It plays a pivotal role in switching towards green energy sources and replacing fossil or oil-based fuels which are responsible to throw a greater amount of greenhouse gases in the environment. The demand for energy is on the rising trend and so does global warming, which is severely impacting our planet and wreaking havoc one after another. Hence it is more important than ever to take immediate measures for switching towards environment-friendly sources of energy. Alongside one of the major concerns countries and environmentalists are facing is how to scale up sustainable renewable energy sources to completely replace the oil and gas which has been consumed currently.
According to a professor of biological sciences and former director of the Energy Center at Purdue’s Discovery Park Maureen McCann “Power of plants is significant and they are the basis of the future bioeconomy. In my mind building a sustainable economy means we stop digging carbon out of the ground and begin to make use of one and a half billion tons of biomass available in the U.S. on an annual basis. That is the strategic carbon reserve that we need to exploit to displace oil.” She has studied a wide range of plants from popular trees to zinnias to have an understanding of plant genes and constructive ways to manipulate them for different purposes.
Presently, the ethanol industry is using enzymes to break starchy corn kernel down into glucose molecules, then they are fermented by microorganisms for the production of usable fuel. Researchers have been working on the possibility of getting more glucose by utilizing the primary fibrous component of the plants’ cell wall to break down the cellulose. While, McCann came up with a finding that by using these methods might be ignoring a valuable resource. Further, cell walls also contain lignins which may get into the way of enzymes and catalysts that try to access cellulose and then break it down into useful glucose. Therefore, many labs have attempted to create plants that have more cellulose and fewer lignins in their cell walls.
As plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thinking about using plant material in a biorefinery to ensure every carbon atom that plants trap as the part of their bodies would turn out a useful target molecule be it a liquid hydrocarbon or a component of some material with advanced properties. This process can be considered as a pathway of ending economic dependence on fossil fuels and a great transition towards a renewable energy economy but it still requires a long way to go and multitudes of level to be changed over time. For instance if the economy is completely switched towards electric cars, hydrocarbon fuels will still be required to mine lithium for the batteries and to run machines with longer lifetime than cars.