Biofuels are an important part of the broader strategy to replace petroleum-based gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels that we use today. However, biofuels have so far not reached cost parity with conventional petroleum fuels.
One strategy to make biofuels more competitive is to make plants do some of the work themselves. Scientists can engineer plants to produce valuable chemical compounds, or bioproducts, as they grow. Then the bioproducts can be extracted from the plant and the remaining plant material can be converted into fuel. When produced in the plant itself, bioproducts can help reduce the cost of the resulting biofuel.
But one important part of this strategy has remained unclear — exactly how much of a particular bioproduct would plants need to make in order to make the process economically feasible?
Now researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), which is managed by Berkeley Lab, have provided the first definition of this amount. Their study, jointly led by Corinne Scown and Patrick Shih, was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.