Companies that make enzymes, including Novozymes and BASF, are working to extract sugars from plants to replace oil used to generate plastics, fibers and other materials. "90% of the oil and gas produced in the world today goes into energy, and 10% goes into chemical materials," said Thomas Schaefer, a senior research director with Novozymes. An analyst at the investment bank Carnegie, which published a study showing that market potential for biochemicals could surpass $100 billion, said such efforts "stand on the edge of something that can be a very good business."

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