The world is heading towards a crisis in providing sufficient food, water and fuel for a rapidly expanding population, while also conserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change. Through photosynthesis, plants could provide multiple solutions, helping to secure future supplies of not only food, but also energy, chemicals and materials. These roles have to be balanced to reduce conflict over the limited land resources available for cultivation. In particular, the current use of some food crop products for fuel should be superseded by the use of non-food biomass. To achieve this, the recalcitrance of lignocellulose to break down needs to be overcome and improvements in crop composition and cell walls are required to provide more optimized feedstocks for processing and conversion though biological or thermochemical routes. Research should also focus on improving energy yields of biomass crops on resource-limited land that is less suitable for food-based agriculture. Finally, the exploitation of high-value products is also needed to extract maximum value from biomass through the development of integrated biorefinery systems. In this article, brief highlights are provided of progress already achieved towards some of these goals. Such endeavours provide opportunities for biochemists to join forces with crop geneticists, biotechnologists and engineers to provide more sustainable fuels and chemicals for the future.

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