Transforming wood into biofuel, pulp, and paper is a huge production that uses a vast amount of energy and resources in the process of breaking down the fibers. However, researchers from the University of British Columbia, University of Wisconsin Madison, and Michigan State University are now saying they have designed plant cell walls that break down more easily, which could dramatically reduce the cost and energy needed to turn biomass into fuel. Lignin is the naturally occurring polymer found in wood responsible for keeping it upright, but also responsible for making it difficult to break down in industrial production.
The typical method of removing lignin to degrade wood for other uses includes heating it and breaking it down using enzymes. This is a high-energy process, and with a redesigned lignin that’s broken down more easily, it takes the pressure off fossil fuels, uses fewer chemicals, and releases fewer environmental pollutants into the atmosphere. John Ralph from University of Wisconsin Madison explains that the genetically modified trees still maintain their growth and strength despite the weaker lignin, as tested in a greenhouse.
However, in addition to the energy-saving effects of genetically modified trees, there are also negatives to consider as well. Some criticisms of GMOs include issues with cross-pollination and contamination of non-genetically modified plants, plants that have an extreme tolerance to herbicides, and potential for new toxins, allergens, and carcinogens to be created as a result of genetically modifying plants.
To read more on exactly how this complicated process works you can visit SmartPlanet!