(309d) The Vision of a Sustainable Bioeconomy in an Era of $50 Oil

Authors: 
Stephanopoulos, G., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Biotechnology is rapidly coming of age as enabling technology for the production of biobased chemicals and biofuels. This is a process of creative destruction whereby one type of manufacturing technology based on chemistry is gradually being replaced by another based on biology.  Sustainability is a major driving force, but, biobased processes have additional unique advantages, such as superb specificity and ability to convert with high efficiency renewable feed stocks.  These advantages tend to counterbalance the high space times of competing chemical processes. A critical question is how biotechnology will fare in a period of declining energy and fossil feedstock prices. I argue that, despite temporary excursions, the fundamental relationship between real costs of fossil and renewable feedstocks will be maintained and the outcome of the competition between biotechnology and chemistry will be decided on the technical merits of the corresponding processes. In this regard, metabolic engineering becomes of critical importance in advancing the competitiveness of biotechnology and realizing the vision of sustainable bioeconomy.