Genetic Engineering, Biofuels and the Environment


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NUS Freshmen Seminar September 2011

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  • What come next? Hold on to that thoughts and we will come back later. Let me tell u about using energy from crops
  • The global rush to switch from oil to energy derived from plants will drive deforestation, push small farmers off the land and lead to serious food shortages and increased poverty unless carefully managed, says the most comprehensive survey yet completed of energy crops.The United Nations report, compiled by all 30 of the world organisation's agencies, points to crops like palm oil, maize, sugar cane, soya and jatropha. Rich countries want to see these extensively grown for fuel as a way to reduce their own climate changing emissions. Their production could help stabilise the price of oil, open up new markets and lead to higher commodity prices for the poor.But the UN urges governments to beware their human and environmental impacts, some of which could have irreversible consequences.The report, which predicts winners and losers, will be studied carefully by the emerging multi-billion dollar a year biofuel industry which wants to provide as much as 25% of the world's energy within 20 years.Global production of energy crops is doubling every few years, and 17 countries have so far committed themselves to growing the crops on a large scale.Last year more than a third of the entire US maize crop went to ethanol for fuel, a 48% increase on 2005, and Brazil and China grew the crops on nearly 50m acres of land. The EU has said that 10% of all fuel must come from biofuels by 2020. Biofuels can be used in place of petrol and diesel and can play a part in reducing emissions from transport.On the positive side, the UN says that the crops have the potential to reduce and stabilise the price of oil, which could be very beneficial to poor countries. But it acknowledges that forests are already being felled to provide the land to grow vast plantations of palm oil trees. Environment groups argue strongly that this is catastrophic for the climate, and potentially devastating for forest animals like orangutans in Indonesia.The UN warns: "Where crops are grown for energy purposes the use of large scale cropping could lead to significant biodiversity loss, soil erosion, and nutrient leaching. Even varied crops could have negative impacts if they replace wild forests or grasslands."But the survey's findings are mixed on whether the crops will benefit or penalise poor countries, where most of the crops are expected to be grown in future. One school of thought argues that they will take the best land, which will increase global food prices. This could benefit some farmers but penalise others and also increase the cost of emergency food aid."Expanded production [of biofuel crops] adds uncertainty. It could also increase the volatility of food prices with negative food security implications", says the report which was complied by UN-Energy."The benefits to farmers are not assured, and may come with increased costs. [Growing biofuel crops] can be especially harmful to farmers who do not own their own land, and to the rural and urban poor who are net buyers of food, as they could suffer from even greater pressure on already limited financial resources."At their worst, biofuel programmes can also result in a concentration of ownership that could drive the world's poorest farmers off their land and into deeper poverty," it says.According to the report, the crops could transform the rural economy of rich and poor countries, attracting major new players and capital, but potentially leading to problems. "Large investments are already signalling the emergence of a new bio-economy, pointing to the possibility that still larger companies will enter the rural economy, putting the squeeze on farmers by controlling the price paid to producers and owning the rest of the value train," it says.The report also says the crops are not guaranteed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Producing and using biofuels results in some reductions in emissions compared to petroleum fuels, it says, but this is provided there is no clearing of forest or peat that store centuries of carbon."More and more people are realising that there are serious environmental and food security issues involved in biofuels. Climate change is the most serious issue, but you cannot fight climate change by large scale deforestation," said Jan van Aken, of Greenpeace International in Amsterdam."Bioenergy provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to address climate change, energy security and rural development. [But] investments need to be planned carefully to avoid generating new environmental and social problems," said Achim Steiner, executive director of UN Environment programme yesterday.Plant powerBiomass energy can be obtained from just about any plant or tree but is most commonly obtained from maize, soya beans, oil palms, sugar cane, sunflower and trees. The carbohydrates in the biomass, which are comprised of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen, can be broken down into a variety of chemicals, some of which are useful fuels. At its simplest, plant matter is simply burned but much of the energy is wasted and it can cause pollution. So, the plant is either heated and refined to break down into gases, fermented and turned into grain alcohol or ethanol, or chemically converted to make into biodiesel.
  • “If corn-based biofuels are the Britney Spears of the cleantech world (a fallen star but still all over the place), fuel made from algae is the next great American Idol winner (major potential in the pipeline)
  • Let see this important pathway of Algae. Algae has maximal production of storage lipids occur only when the cells are environmentally stressed in some manner.But with great lipid produce, the growth rate of nutrient-deficient algae will be greatly reduced. So GE is needed to alter promising species so that lipid accumulation can be induced during normal growth modes
  • Genetic Engineering, Biofuels and the Environment

    1. 1. GeneticEngineeringTo SolveEnvironmentIssues
    2. 2. Current issues arising from theuse of fossil fuels Major contributors to global warming(nitrous oxide) Acid rain, smog Health problems Diminishing fossil fuels (non-renewable)
    3. 3. LignocelluloseBiomass
    4. 4. Lignocellulose Biomass Alternative source of energy Main idea: to utilise enzymatic fermentation to convert LCB into combustible ethanol
    5. 5. What is LignocelluloseBiomass? LCB basically refers to the biomass found in the cell walls of plants Has a long history of being used as a source of energy Earliest use:
    6. 6. Lignocellulose Biomass Current commercial usages include  Paper produces, such as paperboards and card stocks  Textile made from cotton, linen, and other plant fibers  Cellophane, which is a thin transparent film; used for photographic and movies films until the mid 1930s  Nitrocellulose as “smokeless” gunpowder  Cellulose as used for thin layer chromatography  And of course, as an energy source
    7. 7. Lignocellulose BiomassConstituents of cell walls of plants  Cellulose: 35-50%  Hemicellulose: 20-35% (Hemicellulose is another polysaccharide that is present along with cellulose on most plant cell walls, and has no purpose in providing structural support, and is easily hydrolyzed. Its primary function is deter herbivores from consuming the plant.)  Lignin: 10-25%
    8. 8. CelluloseWhat is cellulose? Cellulose is the main component of the cell wall of plants A polysaccharide that has a primary function of providing structural support to the plant
    9. 9. Scanning Electron Micrograph of crystalline celluloseSource:
    10. 10. LigninWhat is lignin? Another important component of the plant cell wall Biopolymer that is relatively heterogeneous and lacks a primary structure
    11. 11. Lignin Functions  Ecologically, lignin plays a pivotal role in the carbon cycle, and is the primary constituent of humus, which forms when decomposition occurs  Also, it is the main reason why wood is sturdy, and fit to used as a raw material that has many applications, including the manufacturing of furniture, and other wood products
    12. 12. LigninBiological function Like cellulose, lignin provides structural support for plant cells, by filling up spaces in the cell wall between the cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin components. How?
    13. 13. Source:
    14. 14.  As illustrated, the strength of the cell walls of plants come in part of the array of covalent bonds (more specifically, ether and ester bonds), linking between the polysaccharides such as cellulose, and the lignin itself Ether ester
    15. 15. Cellulosic Ethanol Consider cellulosic ethanol, the most prominent form of biofuel Obtained from the anaerobic fermentation of cellulose
    16. 16.  Source:
    17. 17. Enzymatic Fermentation ofCelluloseAka. SaccharificationBecause of the covalent bonds (morespecifically, ester and ether linkages)between the lignin and the cellulose, thecell walls become highly resistant toenzymatic and chemical saccharification.This resistance is thus termed recalcitrance.
    18. 18. Recalcitrance tosaccharificationBecause of the recalcitrance factor, yield ofcellulosic ethanol is reduced Genetic Engineering
    19. 19. Lignin modification In 2007, a paper was written by Fang Chen and Richard A. Dixon Published in “Nature Biotechnology” Entitled: “Lignin modification improves fermentable sugar yields for biofuel production” pdf
    20. 20. Lignin modificationIt is stated that genes encoding theenzymes that are responsible for thesynthesis of hydroxyphenyl, guaiacyl, andsyringyl, all of which the building blocks oflignin, have been identified and decoded.
    21. 21. Genetic modification of lignin In August 2010, another paper was published by a group of Chinese researchers Entitled: “Syringyl lignin biosynthesis is directly regulated by a secondary cell wall master switch” ull.pdf
    22. 22. Genetic modification of ligninThis group of researchers managed tomanipulate the genes encoding theproduction of syringyl (one of thecomponents of lignin).
    23. 23. Genetic modification of ligninIn short, thanks to genetic engineering,recalcitrance factor towardssaccharification has been reduced,increasing yield of cellulosic ethanol
    24. 24. Bacteria
    25. 25. The use of bacteria as analternative source of energy Bacteria feeding on carbon dioxide Diesel spewing bacteria
    26. 26. Bacteria feeding on carbondioxide Inearly 2011, the company Joule Unlimited patented a process involving a genetically-modified form of blue-green bacteria that converts sunlight and carbon dioxide directly into diesel fuel They use a genetically engineered cyanobacteria and an efficient photobioreactor
    27. 27. How it works ? Involve feeding concentrated waste carbon dioxide to a new kind of blue green bacteria They use Cyanobacteria, which is also known as blue-green algae, however it is technically not an algae. The genetically modified Cyanobacteria will produce the fuel using photosynthesis
    28. 28. How it works? The bacterium’s product, is a class of hydrocarbon molecules called alkanes that are chemically indistinguishable from the ones made in oil refineries. The organism can grow in bodies of water unfit for drinking or on land that is useless for farming. Alkanes produced are very clean and sulphur-free hydrocarbons One bacteria strain produced ethanol. Different variants can also make polymers and other high- value chemicals that are ordinarily derived from petroleum
    29. 29. Advantages Produces five to fifty times more fuel per acre of bacteria than any current process that uses biomass – plant material – to create fuel. Able to make 15 thousand gallons of diesel per acre annually, even on land unsuitable for food crops. Requires large amounts of input CO2, which are abundant in industrial waste processes(this increase the efficiency of the process)
    30. 30. Advantages Use marginal land-not food versus fuel but food plus fuel(increase the efficiency of both) Can use water that’s not really usable for anything else. It is highly conservative of water as it has almost no evaporative losses Produce liquid fuels for cars today.
    31. 31. Diesel spewing bacteria Genetically engineered by researchers from LS9,INC. They are specialize in the development of renewable biofuel using synthetic biology
    32. 32. How it works? Bacteria naturally turn the sugars they consume into fatty acids, which are later converted to lipids for storage. Fatty acids are only a few molecular linkages removed from diesel fuel Scientist tweak the genetic makeup of existing bacteria(E. coli)to yield new, diesel-producing strains Divert fatty acid pathways
    33. 33. Advantages The fuel produced by LS9s microbes is pump- ready-It requires only a simple cleaning step to filter out impurities Utilizes 65% less energy than making ethanol LS9s finished product also has 50% more energy content than ethanol--a gallon of bacteria fuel would last your car about 50% longer than a gallon of ethanol. Cost, security of supply, and impact on the environment.
    34. 34. Algae
    35. 35. Source of Energy Fossil Energy ? Fuel Crops
    36. 36. Bioenergy from food/plants In order to provide sufficient energy to meet the demand, food are turn into biodiesel In year 2006, more than a third of the entire US maize crop went to ethanol for fuel, a 48% increase on 2005 Consequences:  Drive deforestation ( contradict environment salvage)  Push small farmers off the land  Lead to serious food shortages  Lead to increased poverty 007/may/09/foodanddrink.renewabl eenergy
    37. 37. “If corn-based biofuels arethe Britney Spears of thecleantech world, fuelmade from algae is thenext great American Idolwinner”
    38. 38. Algae Eukaryotic organisms that contain chlorophyll and other pigments and can carry on photosynthesis Large and diverse group of organisms  More than 100,000 different species of plantlike organisms belong the algae family ~50% of algae compose by weight of lipids The next “star” for alternative energy  High photosynthetic conversion efficiencies,  Rapid biomass production rates  The capacity to produce a wide variety of biofuel feedstocks  The ability to thrive in diverse ecosystems.  A low-energy methods to harvest microalgal cells  The low light penetration in dense microalgal cultures.  Having a cost effective extraction technique.
    39. 39. Statistics Algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel Experts estimate it will take 140 billion gallons of algae biodiesel to replace petroleum- based products each year. To reach this goal, algae biodiesel companies will only need about 95 million acres of land to build biodiesel plants, compared to billions of acres of fertile/arable land for other biodiesel products.
    40. 40. Pros of Algae as fuel Stabilesoil price No demand of foods and crops No compete for arable land Do not affect fresh water resource Biodegradable Resulting in “Greener” energy
    41. 41. How to change an organismAlgae into energy?
    42. 42. Algae leading To GE Algae has maximal production of storage lipids occur only when the cells are environmentally stressed in some manner. But with great lipid produce, the growth rate of nutrient-deficient algae will be greatly reduced. So GE is needed to alter promising species so that lipid accumulation can be induced during normal growth modes Recombinant DNA Technology II, 1994, 721: 250-256.
    43. 43. Use of Genetic Engineering in Algae fuel  GE can be used to metabolically engineer or select for abundant lipid production coupled with high biomass accumulation  typeof algae being used  way the algae is grown  GEcan also help to facilitate large scale processing of algae  The method of oil extraction
    44. 44. Challenges Two main challenges that researchers face are: 1) Finding which genes that need to be transferred 2) Developing the tools to modify a certain algal species.
    45. 45. Limitation of Algae Biofuel Algae is a very big species to be research on.  Take time and effort No real and comfirm on classification or organization of the entire family of Algae Research is very new and still at its infancy stage where not much research are concluded yet. There has not been any real testing done with yet algae biodiesel and actual cars.  In January 2008, a company used algae biodiesel to fuel a Mercedes Benz E320 diesel to cruise the streets of Park City, Utah during the Sundance Film Festival.  However, no statistics were released on the cars gas mileage or what kind of emissions it produced.
    46. 46. References html 63006.pdf preview.axd?code=159cl7kj1qf6qqge&size=largest ure/BiologicalSolutionstoRenewableEnergy.aspx batteries/ l.htm
    47. 47. References 3646.1997.00713.x/abstract 3646.1997.00713.x/pdf biodiesel4.htm algae/ scum-to-fuel-tanks/ enhanced-bio production.html
    48. 48. Thank you foryour attention