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Metabolix Demonstrates Viability of Bioplastic Production in Switchgrass Plants

Switchgrass plants engineered using Metabolix’s multi-gene expression technology have produced significant amounts of PHA bioplastics in leaf tissues in recently-completed greenhouse trials. This represents the first successful expression of a new functional multi-gene pathway in switchgrass, according to the company. The resulting potential for value-added co-products could improve the economics of switchgrass-derived cellulosic ethanol.

Metabolix has been developing technology to produce PHA polymer in switchgrass for over 7 years. This result validates the prospect for economic production of PHA polymer in switchgrass, and demonstrates for the first time an important tool for enhancing switchgrass for value-added performance as a bioenergy crop.

—Dr. Oliver Peoples, Chief Scientific Officer

A detailed paper on the technology entitled “Production of polyhydroxybutyrate in switchgrass, a value-added co-product in an important lignocellulosic biomass crop” was recently accepted for publication in Plant Biotechnology Journal.


Henry Gibson

There is not enough land in the US to grow biofuels in sufficient quantities to supply all automobiles much less all industries. Most research money should be spent in testing experiments related to producing liquid fuels with nuclear or solar energy. At the very least nuclear and solar energy can be used in the distillation processes.

If renewable energy is so important in the minds of some why is not the use of solar heat required for distillation in ethanol plants and why are ethanol plants not being required to be built in Arizona where there is more sun. ..HG..


"There is not enough land in the US to grow biofuels in sufficient quantities to supply all automobiles"

wrong. see M. giganteus trials.


Appropriate technology,
Describes process and system that work locally to provide for the needs of the population.
While this does not prioritize providing for everyone on the globe, and may not be the most efficient production scenario - cheap labor sourcing all material inputs locally or providing every possible modern convenience even from the other end of the earth, It does aim to provide the necessities of dignified existence and self sufficiency.
It can be easily shown that having everything possible much of which we didn't have yesterday, is not a requirement for a good life.
From the viewpoint of sustainability it is not practical or desirable.
Coming to terms with our reality and the human condition is more important.
Raw horsepower in the hands of the few or smaller scale independence of many?
Do we aim for the future in our hands or big govt business?
In this context, bio plastics etc small scale and sustainable production can rate well against unwieldy centralized production.
Sustainable is there for the long term.
That we see possibilities for in this case bio plastic is sufficient.
It may not keep shareholders and big co ceo's in easy street (nothing personal) but that's not my concern.


I'd agree that we don't have enough land to supply our liquid fuel needs but I disagree about our ability to supply our plastic needs.


Quoth eric:

"There is not enough land in the US to grow biofuels in sufficient quantities to supply all automobiles"

wrong. see M. giganteus trials.

You're looking at near-optimal conditions for Miscanthus, which are also very good conditions for many other crops.  If we attempt to continue Happy Motoring (In Our Hummers) using Miscanthus, we'll take huge amounts of land out of food without solving our problem.

IMO, perennial grasses like Panicum and Miscanthus will see use for rebuilding soils, stabilizing erodible land, capturing runoff nutrients and providing carbon capture.  But as far as fuels go, they're going to be part of a troupe of players including corn stover and refuse-derived materials, not stars of their own show.


I think this whole argument is ingenous?

What is "enough"?

Is it
a. enough to run our wasteful (15% efficiency oil well to wheel) private auto fleet? (we need 13 million barrels a day to do this)
b. enough to run only distribution and agriculture? (we need 3 million barrels a day to do this using standard technology)

The highest estimate I have seen so far is that we could produce 5 million barrels per day equivalent on 25% of the agricultural land.

That's not enough to be sure, but there are many efficiency gains to be had.
We could easily double the efficiency of the average vehicle meaning that we don't need 13 million barrels per day. If we then doubled it again by using plug-ins we comfortably come in under the 5 million barrels.

That said, I personally don't favor trying to continue the current paradigm. What will we do if a virulent disease suddenly wipes out the switchgrass crop, or we get drought etc?

If we don't get switched over to an alternate in time, then, yes, I favor using biofuels to keep distribution and agriculture running but pretty much the rest of us will have to get used to taking the bus or driving one of those goofy little two seater 25mph electric vehicles. Or a rock-my-world Tesla electric sports car for those who can afford it.

Whatever happens, the future looks very, very interesting.



I agree with you. By 2020-2030 the world will find ways to run 1.0 B light vehicles on 25% of the liquid fuel used today. By that time, bio-fuels could supply the major portion fo the (much reduced) liquid fuel required.

After 2030, many would not even remember ICE equipped light vehicles.

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