Researching new products
In a world that relies heavily on non-renewable fossil fuels, scientists are searching for more environmentally‑sound alternatives. One solution could come from plants.
CSIRO scientists have identified two genes from wild plants that could help oilseed plants such as linseed produce oil for industrial uses.
Biofuels are designed to be used in place of existing petroleum-based fuels. The main sources of biofuels are vegetable oils or animal fats. Although diesel engines can operate on straight vegetable oil as a fuel, biodiesel is cleaner-burning and slightly more efficient.
Scientists are also looking at using other sources for environmentally friendly ways to run cars. For example, Brazil has experimented with plant-based fuels since the 1970s, when the country switched its fuel supply to a cheaper home grown product: sugar cane ethanol. At one point, 91% of cars driven in Brazil were running on biofuels.
Scientists have also harnessed a group of naturally‑occurring bacteria to generate electricity. The bacteria, from a family of microorganisms called Geobacteraceae, break down organic material in mud — anything from decaying plant and animal matter to toxic organic pollutants — to obtain energy. In the process, they produce a stream of electrons that can be captured to generate electricity.
A Melbourne company produces a biodegradable plastic that dissolves in water. Made from corn, the plastic, called ‘plantic', is being used by manufacturers and packagers around the world for uses such as chocolate trays, seedling pots, mosquito traps, and even a urine sample collection system called Peezy!
Researchers are using mussels to make superglue.
They've discovered that the key binding agent in the super-strong glues of the common blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, is iron in seawater. The researchers are using this knowledge to develop safer alternatives for surgical and household glues, as well as looking at how to combat the mussels' glue to prevent damage to shipping vessels and the accidental transport of invasive species.
The 800 mussels in their laboratory apparently have an uncanny ability to stick to almost anything, even Teflon®.
Heat-loving bacteria from the bottom of the ocean are being used to develop a hi-tech sunscreen. A French cosmetics firm has developed a ‘smart' sun lotion using bacteria harvested from deep sea hydrothermal vents. The lotion gives increased skin protection as the temperature rises.