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The Emergence of a "Renewable Feedstock-Based" Chemical Industry

The Emergence of a "Renewable Feedstock-Based" Chemical Industry

This video was recorded at MIT World Series: Frontiers of Biotechnology Lecture Series. If the future once lay in plastics, as the film "The Graduate" claimed, today the watchword may be "feedstocks." This term includes corn, wheat, soy, sunflower, rapeseed (canola)—the array of carbohydrates and proteins growing in fields across the planet. The news, as Douglas Cameron makes clear, is that these crops no longer serve just as staples for animal and human diets, but as the basis for a "revolution in the chemical industry." Cameron's company, Cargill, is exploring a host of biotech applications for carbohydrates, fats and proteins found in common crops. For instance, they're attempting to convert a plastic derivative of lactic acid (derived from fermented starch) into inexpensive polymers for medical implants. Another application: polylactide fibers that not only give comfort to clothing but provide high wicking power. Cameron also sees soy and vegetable oils as a promising industrial "platform." Cargill envisions transforming them for use in engines, as lubricants, hydraulic and transformer fluids, replacing environmentally unfriendly chemicals. If industry can find effective conversion methods, grains and legumes may emerge as primary sources of fuel, key ingredients in drugs and diet supplements, clothing and paper products, and as heightened versions of themselves—more nutritious food for people and animals.

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