Forbes reports that scientists with San Diego biotech firm Diversa have descended into volcanoes in Siberia, plumbed thermal vents 3,000 feet deep in the Atlantic Ocean and crawled around the humid rain forests of Costa Rica. Their quest: microorganisms that survive in extreme surroundings by producing digestive enzymes that excel in withering heat and pressure--ideal for an industrial refinery. Back in the lab Diversa rearranges the genes inside these enzymes to make them even better at what they do. One exotic breed Diversa has begun selling produces ethanol 30% more efficiently than conventional methods. The $1.5 trillion chemicals industry has raised prices 60% in three years as costs soar for their mainstay ingredients--oil and natural gas. In search of a replacement, the industry is turning to a new breed of superbugs and enzymes.Refineries of the future will spew out chemicals and plastics from corn sugar or wood pulp instead of from fossil fuels. Thus far the star of this new science has been ethanol, a car fuel made from corn, but around the world chemical, grain and biotech companies are working to produce auto paint, cosmetics, even apparel fiber from renewable resources.
A healthy dose of biotech innovation could reshape one of the biggest industries in the world. Two-thirds of global chemical production depends on oil or gas as its raw ingredient. If crops, farm waste or wood pulp were to replace fossil fuels in only 10% of the chemical supply, biochemicals would be a $150 billion industry, up from $30 billion today.
:: Via Forbes