Plant triacylglycerols as feedstocks for the production of biofuels

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    A brief note on lipid nomenclature: fatty acids can be designated as X:Y where X represents the number of carbon atoms and Y represents the number of double bonds. In some cases, the position of the double bond relative to the carboxyl group is designated by delta (Δ). Thus oleate can be abbreviated as 18:1 or 18:1Δ9.

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Summary

Triacylglycerols produced by plants are one of the most energy-rich and abundant forms of reduced carbon available from nature. Given their chemical similarities, plant oils represent a logical substitute for conventional diesel, a non-renewable energy source. However, as plant oils are too viscous for use in modern diesel engines, they are converted to fatty acid esters. The resulting fuel is commonly referred to as biodiesel, and offers many advantages over conventional diesel. Chief among these is that biodiesel is derived from renewable sources. In addition, the production and subsequent consumption of biodiesel results in less greenhouse gas emission compared to conventional diesel. However, the widespread adoption of biodiesel faces a number of challenges. The biggest of these is a limited supply of biodiesel feedstocks. Thus, plant oil production needs to be greatly increased for biodiesel to replace a major proportion of the current and future fuel needs of the world. An increased understanding of how plants synthesize fatty acids and triacylglycerols will ultimately allow the development of novel energy crops. For example, knowledge of the regulation of oil synthesis has suggested ways to produce triacylglycerols in abundant non-seed tissues. Additionally, biodiesel has poor cold-temperature performance and low oxidative stability. Improving the fuel characteristics of biodiesel can be achieved by altering the fatty acid composition. In this regard, the generation of transgenic soybean lines with high oleic acid content represents one way in which plant biotechnology has already contributed to the improvement of biodiesel.

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