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Improved Agro-Based Production

Improving the sustainability and efficiency of agricultural production through new practices, products and materials.
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Saving 700 million tonnes of wasted crop
AgriMax: high-value products from crop and food-processing waste
News from this sector
Researchers find new ways to engineer plants
21/03/2019

Scientists have found new ways of using tiny particles of carbon to speed up the process of genetically modifying plants.
NatureWorks Announces 100 Percent Third-Party Certified Sustainable Feedstock by 2020
18/02/2019

A new initiative at NatureWorks will ensure that by 2020, 100 percent of the agricultural feedstock for Ingeo™ biopolymers and Vercet™performance chemicals will be certified by the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification System (ISCC).
Researchers find new ways to engineer plants (21/03/2019)
Scientists have found new ways of using tiny particles of carbon to speed up the process of genetically modifying plants.
The researchers from the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) used nanoparticles to deliver genes into the chloroplasts of plant cells and worked with many different plant species including spinach and other vegetables.

This technique can be used for rapid screening of candidate genes for chloroplast expression in a wide variety of crop plants.

The researchers grafted genes on to carbon nanotubes, microscopic cylindrical structures, and then showed that they easily inserted themselves into the nucleus of plant cells, where the plant then decoded the DNA instructions.

For the study, published in the recent journal of Nature Nanotechnology, the team of researchers injected carbon particles coated in a gene for fluorescence into the leaves of supermarket spinach. They also showed that the nanotubes could slip through the cell walls of a variety of other plants.

This means that they could not only be used to deliver individual genes, but also carry the instructions to fundamentally edit the DNA of the plant itself.

According to the MIT researchers, this is an easier way to engineer plants. The traditional process is usually complex and time-consuming. It is also a process that has to be customised to the specific plant species that is being altered, according to the MIT researchers.

This is a universal mechanism that works across plant species, said Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, speaking about the new process.

This is an important first step toward chloroplast transformation, Chua said. This technique can be used for rapid screening of candidate genes for chloroplast expression in a wide variety of crop plants.

The researchers hope that this new tool will allow plant biologists to more easily engineer a variety of desirable traits into vegetables and crops. For example, agricultural researchers in Singapore and elsewhere are interested in creating leafy vegetables and crops that can grow at higher densities, for urban farming.

Other possibilities include creating drought-resistant crops, engineering crops such as bananas, citrus, and coffee to be resistant to fungal infections that threaten to wipe them out, and modifying rice so that it does not take up arsenic from groundwater.

According to the US-based scientists, because the engineered genes are carried only in the chloroplasts, which are inherited maternally, they can be passed to offspring but cant be transferred to other plant species.

Thats a big advantage, because if the pollen has a genetic modification, it can spread to weeds and you can make weeds that are resistant to herbicides and pesticides. Because the chloroplast is passed on maternally, its not passed through the pollen and theres a higher level of gene containment, MIT graduate student Tedrick Thomas Salim Lew said.

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NatureWorks Announces 100 Percent Third-Party Certified Sustainable Feedstock by 2020 (18/02/2019)
A new initiative at NatureWorks will ensure that by 2020, 100 percent of the agricultural feedstock for Ingeo™ biopolymers and Vercet™performance chemicals will be certified by the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification System (ISCC).
NatureWorks was the first biopolymers manufacturer to become certified to the new ISCC PLUS standard in 2012 and currently has more than 40 percent of its agricultural feedstock certified. At full capacity, more than 90 farms will be involved in the program by 2020.

The ISCC PLUS certified crops are grown within 50 miles of the NatureWorks' Blair, Nebraska, production facility, which has an annual production capacity of 150,000 metric tons of Ingeo biopolymer. Every farm entering the program receives training in adhering to the ISCC PLUS certification's principles, which are the following:

1. Protect highly biodiverse and high carbon stock areas.

2. Implement best agricultural practices for the use of fertilizers and pesticides, irrigation, tillage, soil management, and the protection of the surrounding environment.

3. Promote safe working conditions

4. Comply with human, labor, and land rights

5. Comply with laws and international treaties

6. Implement good management practices and continuous improvement

"New materials innovation is being driven by the tenants of the circular bioeconomy, and as we seek to decouple plastics from fossil feedstocks, we remain committed to feedstock diversification and to critically assessing the sustainability of each and every feedstock we use," said Rich Altice, CEO and President of NatureWorks.

ISCC PLUS is an independent third-party sustainability certification system developed in a multi-stakeholder initiative. The comprehensive program certifies the sustainability of agricultural feedstocks used for biobased products, including both the environmental and social aspects of agricultural production. Site specific audits and certificates ensure full traceability and chain of custody along the supply chain, ensuring that the total volume of Ingeo received by the final user of the product can be traced back (and documented through a mass balance system) to the equivalent amount of certified, sustainable crop produced. ISCC certification has been adopted by global brands and is supported by non-governmental organizations.

"We are very happy about NatureWorks' commitment to sourcing sustainable agricultural feedstock," said Gernot Klepper, Chairman of the ISCC Association. "Agricultural producers have both a responsibility and a tremendous chance to contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Certification with ISCC PLUS enables farmers to move toward more sustainable agricultural practices, thus supporting ecologic and social, as well as economic sustainability in agriculture and rural areas."

As part of NatureWorks' commitment to renewable, sustainable feedstocks and materials, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently announced that NatureWorks, along with other global brandowners and manufacturers, have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. As a signatory, NatureWorks committed to the following in support of sustainable agriculture for bioplastics:

- By 2019, 60 percent of the company's feedstock will be certified as sustainably and responsibly managed via ISCC PLUS

- By 2020, 100 percent of feedstock will be certified as sustainably and responsibly managed via ISCC PLUS

- By 2025, 100 percent of new feedstocks for additional manufacturing capacity will be certified as sustainably and responsibly managed via an independent third-party administered program

About NatureWorks
NatureWorks is an advanced materials company offering a broad portfolio of renewably sourced polymers and chemicals. With performance and economics that compete with oil-based materials, naturally advanced Ingeo™ polymers are valued for their unique functional properties and used in products from coffee capsules and appliances to tea bags and 3D printing filament. NatureWorks is jointly owned by Thailand's largest ASEAN leading integrated petrochemical and refining company, PTT Global Chemical, and Cargill, which provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world.

About ISCC
ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification) is a globally leading sustainability certification system. It is applied by more than 3,300 companies in 100 countries. ISCC is an independent multi-stakeholder system used to verify compliance with strict sustainability, GHG and traceability requirements. The certification is carried out by independent third-party organizations. ISCC is a high-level standard, widely recognized by authorities and industry initiatives. It is governed by the ISCC Association comprising 115 Members. A key objective of ISCC is to support the development of a sustainable bioeconomy.

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First production of isobutene from wheat straw at demo scale (18/02/2019)
Global Bioenergies today announces that runs using wheat straw hydrolysate provided by its partner Clariant were successfully performed in its Leuna demo plant, leading to the production of cellulosic isobutene for the first time at this scale.
These runs were part of OPTISOCHEM, a project which started in June 2017 and was granted €9.8 million by the Bio Based Industry-Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU) as part of the H2020 program.

The aim of the project is to demonstrate a new value chain combining Global Bioenergies bio-Isobutene process with technologies developed by Clariant and INEOS, two of Europe's leading chemical companies: currently underutilized residual wheat straw has been converted at demo scale into second generation renewable bio-isobutene, and will eventually be transformed into oligomers and polymers usable in lubricants, rubbers, cosmetics, solvents, plastics, or fuels applications. The intense R&D cooperation will continue until May 2021.

OPTISOCHEM focuses on the demonstration of a new value chain, based on the combination of the technologies and know-how of the participants from four EU member states:

- Conversion of straw into glucose- and xylose-rich hydrolysates by Clariant sunliquid® technology (Germany)

- Fermentation of the straw hydrolysates into bio-isobutene by Global Bioenergies (France and Germany)

- Conversion of bio-isobutene into oligomers and polymers by INEOS (Germany and France)

- Preliminary engineering of an hydrolysate-to-isobutene plant and overall integration with a straw-to-hydrolysate plant, by TechnipFMC and IPSB (France)

- Assessment of the sustainability and environmental benefits by the Energy Institute at the JKU Linz (Austria)

The BBI-JU, a public-private partnership between the European Union and the Bio-Industries Consortium (BIC), is dedicated to realising the European bio-economy potential, turning biological residues and wastes into greener everyday products through innovative technologies and bio-refineries expected to become the heart of the bio-economy.

The BBI-JU selected this project under the name OPTISOCHEM (N°744330), in the frame of the European HORIZON 2020 programme for research and innovation, following a very selective and competitive process led by independent experts.

Markus Rarbach, Head of Biofuels & Derivatives of Clariant comments: "OPTISOCHEM is demonstrating a key value chain within the bio-economy: advanced bio-refineries based on agricultural residues. From our pre-commercial plant in Straubing (Germany) we have supplied cellulosic sugars in tons scale to Global Bioenergies' facilities for conversion to bio-isobutene during the first period of the project. We are very pleased with the excellent results from all partners and will continue to provide additional quantities in the next phases so as to prepare for eventual commercial production in the future."

Frederic Pâques, COO of Global Bioenergies declares: "During this first period, we successfully increased the performances of our micro-organism on traditional substrate such as sucrose and adapted our best microbial chassis to straw hydrolysates. We successfully run our pilot facility in Pomacle (France) and our Demo facility in Leuna (Germany) both with straw hydrolysate and sucrose as a benchmark. We expect to produce several tons of bio-isobutene on this new non-conventional feedstock in the remaining periods of the project"

Jean-François Boideau, EMEA Commercial General Manager at INEOS Oligomers, said: "Our sites have over fifty years of experience in the production of oligomers and polymers of isobutene which are used in lubricants, rubbers, cosmetics, plastics, solvents, and fuels. To date, we received several batches of bio-isobutene from Global Bioenergies for qualification purpose, and the quality is promising. During the next phase of the project, INEOS is ready to evaluate conversion of additional quantities of bio-isobutene into downstream products in order to assess the potential of this bio-based feedstock as a building block for end consumer applications."

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US researchers awarded $2m to advance algae-based bio-polymers (25/01/2019)
The US' Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a team of scientists at the University of California (UC), San Diego $2 million to develop new methods to produce algae-based renewable polymers.
"Bio-based, renewable, sustainable materials are the future of the plastics industry."

The US' Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a team of University of California (UC) San Diego scientists $2 million to develop new methods to produce algae-based renewable polymers. The grant is part of a new initiative by the DOE and other agencies to support the bio-economy.

Project principal investigator Stephen Mayfield of UC San Diego's division of Biological Sciences will lead efforts to develop novel platforms to produce biologically-based monomers that will be used to manufacture renewable and biodegradable versions of plastic polymers called polyurethanes.

"We propose to develop novel algae platforms for the production of one of the key monomers used to make polyurethane polymers, while simultaneously developing basic tools to enable improve algal production systems that will accelerate this process from initial concept to market supply," said Mayfield, who direst the California Center for Algae Biotechnology and the Food & Fuel for the 21st Century programme.

The grant is part of a recently announced $80 million DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office initiative supporting 36 projects in bio-energy research and development. In addition to bio-based products, projects include renewable hydrogen fuels and power from non-food biomass and waste feedstocks.

Mayfield said the DOE and others are investing in novel manufacturing methods for bio-based products and markets, including algae-based polymers that will be used for a variety of plastics found in everyday items.

Algae bio-based production strives to be cost-competitive with plastic products manufactured with fossil sources, according to DOE.

"This grant is part of a significant new initiative by the Department of Energy and other agencies to support the bio-economy, which is using living organisms to manufacture products," said Mayfield. "This is one of the fastest growing sectors for creating new jobs, as well as for developing new advanced materials and products."

Mayfield's laboratory is developing algae for the production of human and animal foods and feeds, and as a platform for the production of recombinant proteins useful as therapeutics or industrial enzymes.

He also works with UC San Diego Chemistry and Biochemistry Department Professors Michael Burkart and Skip Pomeroy in developing sustainably-based products such as revolutionary algae-based surfboards and renewable flip-flops, part of an effort to replace the three billion petroleum-based shoes manufactured worldwide with sustainable and biodegradable shoes made from algae.

"Our strategy is to go from renewable algae feedstocks all the way to products that people actually want to buy," said Burkat.

He added that the surfboards were a "big success, and we are excited to see how people like the flip-flops".

He said that the aim was for UC San Diego to get to 100 per cent renewability and biodegradability and he believed that the university could "make an impact."

"Bio-based, renewable, sustainable materials are the future of the plastics industry," Burkart concluded.

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Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll recycle potato peelings into MDF substitute (25/01/2019)
London-based designers Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll use waste potato peelings to create an eco-friendly alternative to single-use materials like MDF and chipboard, called Chip(s) Board.
Shocked by the environmental impact and short lifespan of many readily disposable materials, Minkley and Nicoll set out to develop a material that, if thrown out in the same way, wouldn't have the same negative environmental impact.

The name Chip(s) Board is a play on the fried potato treat and the material chip board. The new material is biodegradable post-use and, unlike MDF, doesn't contain formaldehyde or other toxic resins and chemicals.

While MDF is a useful material, it is also damaging to the environment, with the UK furniture sector currently disposing or incinerating 140,000 tonnes of MDF per year, due to its inability to be recycled.

The designers believe that the circular economy should be the starting point when designing any new products and materials.

They wanted to combine this issue of material waste with the problem of food waste, which sees a third of all food produced ending up in the bin. The result is a sustainable wood substitute made from the waste potato peelings created from industrial food processing.

The invention saw Minkley recently announced as the UK's "most promising young engineering entrepreneur" by the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub, as part of its annual Launchpad Competition, which aims to encourage more young people to start their own engineering businesses.

After collecting the peelings from manufacturers, they put the raw potato peel through various refinement processes to create a binding agent that can be applied to their fibres - which include potato skins, bamboo, recycled wood or beer hops.

They then use this to form the material by heat pressing the composite into a robust sheet of board that can be processed into an array of products, such as furniture and building materials.

Once they have reached the end of their life span, these products can be sent to industrial compost to be biodegraded into fertiliser for use back at a farm where they were originally taken from.

As Minkley and Nicoll have currently filed a patent for their manufacturing process, they aren't able to disclose many details about the making of the material.

However, they explain that the forming and pressing processes mimic the same conditions found in MDF manufacturing, except toxic formaldehyde-based resins are replace with waste-derived biodegradable binders.

"As Kingston University graduates, our approach to prototyping has been through the art of "thinking through making", said the duo.

"The original development involved a lot of trial and error - mixed with some hack chemistry and educated guesses - as well as a strong strategy and vision to create positive change to the materials industry."

This allowed the duo to develop strong and usable boards, with the help of co-founder Greg Cooper whose background in biochemistry helped them to experiment with each sheet, refining the product until it could be produced commercially.

The designers are also developing other sustainable materials, with a focus on bioplastics which have received considerable interest from designers in the fashion industry.

Also overwhelmed by the amount of potato peel waste produced by fries companies, Italian designers Simone Caronni, Paolo Stefano Gentile and Pietro Gaeli created an ecological packaging for fries made from recycled potato skins, as a sustainable alternative to paper.

As the packaging is made from 100 per cent potato peel, it is also fully biodegradable, returning to the biological cycle by becoming fertiliser for plants or animal food, just like Minkley and Nicoll's Chip(s) Board.

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Scientists engineer shortcut for photosynthetic glitch, boosting crop growth by 40% (25/01/2019)
Plants convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis; however, most crops on the planet are plagued by a photosynthetic glitch, and to deal with it, evolved an energy-expensive process called photorespiration that drastically suppresses their yield potential.
Today, researchers from the University of Illinois and U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service report in the journal Science that crops engineered with a photorespiratory shortcut are 40 per cent more production in real-world agronomic conditions.

Scientists plant tobacco seedlings by hand to test alternate photorespiratory pathways in real-world field conditions. They found that these synthetic shortcuts boost productivity by 40 per cent, and will now apply this breakthrough to boost the yield of food crops.

"We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern U.S. each year," said principal investigator Donald Ort (GEGC leader, BSD, CABBI), Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Science and Crop Sciences. "Reclaiming even a portion of these calories across the world would go a long way to meeting the 21st Century's rapidly expanding food demands - driven by population growth and more affluent high-calorie diets."

This landmark study is part of Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that is engineering crops to photosynthesise more efficiently to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID).

Photosynthesis uses the enzyme Rubisco - the planet's most abundant protein - and sunlight energy to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars that fuel plant growth and yield. Over millennia, Rubisco has become a victim of its own success, creating an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Unable to reliably distinguish between the two molecules, Rubisco grabs oxygen instead of carbon dioxide about 20 per cent of the time, resulting in a plant-toxic compound that must be recycled through the process of photorespiration.

"Photorespiration is anti-photosynthesis," said lead author Paul South, a research molecular biologist with the Agricultural Research Service, who works on the RIPE project at Illinois. "It costs the plant precious energy and resources that it could have invested in photosynthesis to produce more growth and yield."

"Much like the Panama Canal was a feat of engineering that increased the efficiency of trade, these photorespiratory shortcuts are a feat of plant engineering that prove a unique means to greatly increase the efficiency of photosynthesis," said RIPE director Stephen Long (BSD,CABBI,GEGC), the Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois.

The team engineered three alternate routes to replace the circuitous native pathway. To optimise the new routes, they designed genetic constructs using different sets of promoters and genes, essentially creating a suite of unique roadmaps. They stress tested these roadmaps in 1,700 plants to winnow down the top performers.

Over two years of replicated field studies, they found that these engineered plants developed faster, grew taller and produced about 40 per cent more biomass, most of which was found in 50-per cent-larger stems.

The team tested their hypothesis in tobacco: an ideal model plant for crop research because it is easier to modify and test than food crops, yet unlike alternative plant models, it develops a leaf canopy and can be tested in the field. Now, the team is translating these findings to boost the yield of soybean, cowpea, rice, potato, tomato and aubergine.

"Rubisco has even more trouble picking out carbon dioxide from oxygen as it gets hotter, causing more photorespiration," said co-author Amanda Cavanagh, an Illinois postdoctoral researcher working on the RIPE project. "Our goal is to build better plants that can take the heat today and, in the future,, to help equip farmers with the technology they need to feed the world."

While it will likely take more than a decade for this technology to be translated into food crops and achieve regulatory approval, RIPE and its sponsors are committed to ensuring that smallholder farmers, particularly sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, will have royalty-free access to all of the project's breakthroughs.

About RIPE
Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is engineering staple food crops to more efficiently turn the sun's energy into yield to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the UK Government's Department of International Development (DFID).

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