Scientists Genetically Modify Trees to Produce Biofuel & Paper with a Greener Method

Scientists Genetically Modify Trees to Produce Biofuel & Paper with a Greener Method

New research says there’s a better way to make biofuel and paper.


Scientists at the University of British Columbia have genetically modified trees to more easily break down for paper and biofuel production, significantly reducing the amount of necessary chemicals and energy for processing.


“One of the largest impediments for the pulp and paper industry as well as the emerging biofuel industry is a polymer found in wood known as lignin,” said Professor Shawn Mansfield. “We’re designing trees to be processed with less energy and fewer chemicals, and ultimately recovering more wood carbohydrate than is currently possible.”


Lignin is an organic polymer that makes up a considerable part of the cell walls that are broken down during processing for paper and biofuels. But now, researchers have designed the trees to use lignin that is easier to break down, without affecting the integrity of the tree.


While there have been previous attempts to modify trees to be easier to break down, the results weren’t quite as successful—trees were stunted or susceptible to the elements. But scientists say that this is a significant step towards a better method of production.

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“It is truly a unique achievement to design trees for deconstruction,” said Mansfield, “while maintaining their growth potential and strength.”


The study was published in Science, and can be seen here.


FEATURED PHOTO: Icewerks/Flickr

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