Renewable Energy Magazine welcomes Mark Emalfarb, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dyadic, the latest expert wishing to share his ideas and opinions through his new blog Making a Difference. Mark is committed to weaning us off our addiction to fossil fuels by shifting towards an economy powered by sugar.
The scientific community is at the door step of creating a sugar-based economy. By leveraging the human genome project, scientists have sequenced and annotated the genomes of a variety of organisms. Utilizing this rapidly growing knowledge base, biotech companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Synthetic Biology, the bioengineering of organisms such as bacteria, yeast, fungi, algae and plants to first produce fermentable sugars from biomass that can then be used to feed designer microbes engineered to act as bio-factories to produce products from cosmetics to jet fuel competitively with oil.
Renewable sugars are a very attractive and sustainable source of energy for a variety of reasons including:
* Plants species that can be used as feedstocks are diverse, and can be grown locally;
* They can be used to manufacture fuels, chemicals, plastics, polymers, and other bio-based products;
* They provides economic stimulus, supporting local economic growth;
* They reduce the demand for imported oil, among other things reducing the balance of trade;
* They lower the carbon footprint; and
* They are in America's national defense interest.
Most chemicals are derived from petroleum: an energy source that is neither sustainable nor price stable. Commodity prices have skyrocketed, and manufactures are having difficulty passing on the increase in fuel costs to consumers.
Combining bio-engineered bacteria, yeast, fungi, or algae with sugars to produce petroleum-replacement products and industrial chemicals can go a long way to decrease our dependence on oil, and provide us with a renewable greener solution to meeting the world's growing needs.
Sugar such as sucrose has to a greater extent gotten away unscathed in the food-versus-fuel debate compared with corn-based ethanol. Although there seems to be quite a lot of untapped acreage in Brazil and other countries to grow sugar crops, traditional sugar will only take us so far. If we are to make a significant dent in reducing the world's reliance on oil renewable sugars will be a critical feedstock for the growing number of bio-engineered microbes entering the market.
The markets for renewable chemicals and biofuels produced from sugars are expected to grow at an astounding rate, driven by environmental concerns, consumer demand, sustainable policies being put in place by the likes of Wal Mart "Sustainability Index" and others, and governmental policies that target sustainable development and reductions in carbon emissions.
Through the use of synthetic biology a wide range of products, varying from specialty chemicals such as detergents, cosmetics, perfumes and industrial lubricants, to transportation fuels such as ethanol, butanol and diesel can be produced.
The high price of oil is just one of the drivers in the rush to find alternative energy sources. Oil is a finite resource that will eventually run out, however there are several other important factors playing an important role in the transformation from a petroleum based economy to one based on sugars, such as non-oil producing countries’ needs for economic stimulus and balance of trade, to the environmental need to lower the global carbon foot print, to consumers’ and industry's desires to find a more sustainable way to replace our uses of oil to make the myriad of products we rely on and use in our everyday life.
The world needs a lower cost, more environmentally friendly and sustainable solution to oil, and the promise of abundant, low-cost renewable sugars coupled with the rapid development of Synthetic Biology of plants, fungi and other microbial fuel and chemical factories may just be the ticket to a better world.
Editor's note: Mark Emalfarb's company Dyadic has trademarked the term "Green Sugars™", to describe the fermentable sugars from biomass which he hopes will drive the shift away from an oil-based economy; highlighting his commitment to this new source of fuel. We ran an interview with Mark back in 2009 providing an interesting insight into how Mark’s interest in renewable sugars came about.