Engineered Plants Could Be Precursor to Raw Plastics Material

Monday - 11/15/2010, 11:59pm EST

In theory, plants could be the ultimate "green" factories, engineered to pump out the kinds of raw materials we now obtain from petroleum-based chemicals. In reality, its been an elusive goal.

Now, in a first step toward achieving industrial-scale green production, scientists from the Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Lab and their collaborators report engineering a plant that does produce the levels of compounds that could potentially be used to make plastics. The raw materials for most precursors currently come from petroleum or coal-derived synthetic gas.

Additional technology is needed, but researchers say they've now engineered a new metabolic pathway in plants for producing a kind of fatty acid that can be used as a source of precursors to chemical building blocks for making plastics such as polyethylene.