We depend heavily upon dwindling petroleum and other fossil reserves not only for fuel, but also for an array of valuable chemicals. It is estimated that about 20 % of crude petroleum is used for products other than transportation and industrial fuels. Petrochemicals are for example used as raw materials in the production of pharmaceuticals and polymers that we use day-to-day.
Renewable resources are an attractive alternative to petroleum, but for them to be used, innovation is required to turn microorganisms into economically viable and powerful ‘miniature factories’. “People have been talking about expanding the potential of nature – and in particular of microbes – for a long time,” says Vítor Martins dos Santos from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, coordinator of the EU-supported project EMPOWERPUTIDA.