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Biotech could make chemical production carbon neutral.

Using biotechnology to make certain commonly used chemicals could cut the amount of carbon emitted during their production by as much as 100 per cent, according to a new study carried out by a team of scientists led by Barbara Hermann of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

At present, nearly all chemicals required en masse--such as acrylic acid used to make plastics and butanol used as a fuel or solvent--are made from petrochemicals derived from crude oil or natural gas. But according to the research, which has been published in Environmental Science and Technology, enzymes and fermentation processes could be used to create organic compounds from sugars, helping the chemicals industry become sustainable.

The research, which focused on the production of 15 chemicals made in bulk, suggests that if biotechnologies are improved in the future, 'worldwide C[O.sub.2] savings in the range of 500 to 1,000 million tons per year' could be achieved by the chemical industry.

'Some of this biotechnology is, in fact, already being used,' said Hermann.' For example polylactic acid (a biodegradable polyster made from renewable resources) is already produced in the USA.'

Although the chemical industry has been slow in picking up the potential, according to Herman, the increasingly high price of oil may well spur it into action. Indeed, it's already cheaper to make some bulk chemicals using biotechnology, the report concludes.

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Title Annotation:CLIMATEWATCH
Comment:Biotech could make chemical production carbon neutral.(CLIMATEWATCH)
Publication:Geographical
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Mar 1, 2008
Words:230
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