INDUSTRIAL BIOTECHNOLOGY: an important sustainability ally

Climate change, population growth, increased demand for food and consumer goods ... These are some of the challenges faced by our current production model, which depends mainly on fossil natural resources. In order to meet the needs of future generations, the transition from the current productive and economic process to a more sustainable and efficient system must take place. But how can industrial biotechnology help solve these problems?

Industrial biotechnology, also known as white biotechnology, uses enzymes and microorganisms to generate biologically based products. The use of residual biomass as raw material is an example that fits perfectly in the context of sustainable development. Understand why.

Biomass is considered an organic raw material, rich in carbon, as well as oil. It can be obtained from industrial or agricultural wastes, which are constantly produced and disposed of. For this reason, we consider biomass a source of renewable carbon that can be transformed into several products (with added value) by the action of enzymes (biocatalysts) or fermentation by microorganisms. A classic example is sugarcane bagasse, which has its sugars converted into ethanol by fermentation.

The efficient use of residual biomass contributes to a cleaner and more sustainable environment, reducing industrial waste and making the most of resources. Through the use of biomass it is possible to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) due to their decomposition. In addition, inputs with high added value can be generated without the use of fossil resources. Double benefit to our planet!

Thus, what was formerly considered "junk" can be sustainably converted into products (or improve processes) that generate profitability and jobs in different industrial sectors. They are positive impacts for society, the economy and the environment.

Probably the most well-known industrial sector in this context is biofuels, but industrial biotechnology is not restricted to the use of biomass, it is much more!

According to Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the industrial and environmental sector of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) "Industrial applications of biotechnology are transforming manufacturing processes in a profound way. They are providing the green technology tools needed for sustainable development in the industrial sector, eliminating waste and pollutants, and preserving our natural resources."

In addition to the energy sector, we can find applications of industrial biotechnology in the fine chemicals, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, food, textile, agricultural ... There are some quick examples.

For more than 10 years Novozymes has been marketing a tissue spotting enzyme that is active in cold water. This technology, in addition to reducing the emission of CO2 due to the heating of the water of washing machines, generates a biodegradable residue. Incredible, is not it?

Also in the manufacturing sector, we can highlight the company Newlight Technologies, which has been selling the biodegradable polymer AirCarbon since 2013. Its production process is based on the capture of carbon dioxide and methane that react with a microorganism-derived enzymatic biocatalyst. Today AirCarbon is marketed to companies like Dell and Ikea. At Ikea, for example, the biopolymer can be used to make furniture made of plastic, such as chairs.

At this point, you may have noticed that industrial biotechnology is an important way to ensure sustainable development. Overall, it is estimated that biofuel-based inputs (including biofuels, renewable chemical inputs and polymers) are expected to grow from $ 203.3 billion (2015) to about $ 500 billion by 2024.

Brazil has a huge competitive advantage over other countries: it has abundant and cheap biomass, and it also has the greatest biodiversity in the world - which can be a source of technological innovations.

Unfortunately, there are still challenges for industrial biotechnology to reach its full potential in the Brazilian market. It is vital to recognize it as a strategic area for national long-term development. In addition to public policies of incentive and regulation, more investments in innovation, research and development are needed so that new technologies can be developed or optimized, mainly in terms of yield and biomass conversion.

Another important factor is the public acceptance: how about sharing with your friends and family the benefits of industrial biotechnology for sustainable development? The more people understand the importance of these issues, the greater the public support for initiatives in this area.