Imagine a world in which we could adapt biology to manufacture any therapeutic, material, or chemical from renewable resources, both quickly and on demand. Industrial biotechnology is one of the most attractive approaches for addressing this need, particularly when large-scale chemical synthesis is untenable. Unfortunately, the fraction of biobased products amenable to economical production is limited because engineering whole-cell microorganisms with synthetic pathways remains costly and slow. We hypothesize that a key problem to these efforts lies with the inherent limitations imposed by cells. Microbial cells exist to produce more cells, not to produce items of commerce, which often are an unnecessary or even toxic burden on the primary cellular objectives of growth and adaptation. This leads to a variety of challenges afflicting the current state-of-the-art, including: low yields and productivities, build-up of toxic intermediates or products, and byproduct losses via competing pathways. To overcome these limitations, we are expanding the scope of the traditional engineering model in biotechnology by using cell-free systems to harness ensembles of catalytic proteins prepared from crude lysates, or extracts, of cells for the production of target products. Rather than attempt to balance the tug-of-war between the cells objectives and the engineers objectives, we are developing new paradigms for designing, building, and testing cell-free systems that harness and modify biological systems involved in protein synthesis and metabolism. In this presentation, I will discuss our efforts to develop cost-effective, high-throughput cell-free protein synthesis platforms, expand the chemistry of life using non canonical amino acids, construct and evolve synthetic ribosomes, and produce sustainable chemicals with ultrahigh productivities. Our work is enabling a deeper understanding of why natures designs work the way they do and opening new frontiers for biomanufacturing.