A rapidly expanding area of inquiry is the use of plant biomass for the industrial production of organic compounds for which there is high demand. This interest is fuelled largely by the anticipated decline in the supply of petroleum, and the inevitable concomitant rise in cost. Over the past 30 years, significant progress has been made toward the large-scale conversion of plant biomass to common chemicals such as methanol, ethanol, glycerol, substituted furans, and carboxylic acids. However, examination of the list of top production organic chemicals reveals numerous opportunities for future development, including simple halocarbons, alkenes and arenes. Progress toward efficient and economical production of these challenging targets from biomass has recently been reported, and future success is likely to continue through academic and industrial collaboration.