Thursday, February 2, 2012

Synthetic Biology : The Future of Chemical Manufacturers

Synthetic Biology - The Future of Chemical Manufacturers

By Chris Jenkinson

Advancing technology and new uses for old substances may substantially change the future for chemical manufacturers. Synthetic biology as a factor of applied biotechnology will produce some innovative new ways for manufacturing facilities to produce the vast amount of chemicals required by various industries.

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Chemical Manufacturing in the Past

In the past, plant matter supplied the raw material to produce chemicals. It was not until petroleum came along that a wider variety of plastics and other substances were invented. Indeed, this was viewed as one of the greatest advances in the 20th century.

Now, due to advances in genetic engineering, new possibilities exist for manufacture of chemicals through the use of synthetic biology.

How It Works

The aim of synthetic biologists is to create an organism from scratch. They are using an approach similar to that of other types of engineering in the design and construction of systems that will support this new technology.

This new focus is referred to as systems biology. It is the key to learning how to design and engineer parts, devices and systems of a biological nature from standardised elements that are readily available (referred to as biobricks or bioparts).

Another sector of the field is experimenting with algae to produce oils that can be refined into diesel fuel. Algae cells are fed biomass made from natural substances such as sugar cane in the dark, bio-engineering that allows the algae to make oil without going through the process of photosynthesis. Further into the future, the hope is that the resultant oil can function as a triglyceride oil for the manufacture of other chemical products.

Synthetic biology will make great strides in improving chemical manufacturing processes when it can develop fermentation that results in the creation of industrial monomers. The value of these monomers will be in their lower cost and the ability to manufacture in smaller volume batches - making them a more valuable commodity than petrochemicals. As well, synthetic biology will allow the substances to be manipulated to provide a high degree of specialisation to achieve specific performance goals and product features. The future could become reality in this respect in just two years.

There is no doubt synthetic biology still has a long way to go toward becoming the new replacement for non-renewable sources used by chemical manufacturers. However, the possibilities are exciting, and this modern field offers hope for the creation of cheaper, sustainable materials.

Witton have been chemical manufacturers for more than 50 years, working with some of the largest adhesive, electronic, paint, sealant, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

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