Environmentally Sustainable Technologies
As society grapples with the major issues of developing cleaner technologies, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, using renewable plant sources as feedstocks for industry, controlling carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions and reducing energy consumption, industrial biotechnology offers itself as a tool for addressing many of these challenges.
Since reactions catalysed by enzyme systems do not have the usual dependence on high or low pH, high temperatures or heavy metal catalysts, their contribution to cleaner chemistry is obvious. Coupled with the selectivity of the reactions which produce fewer by-products and the ability to reduce the number of synthetic steps in a process, the advantages are self-evident in terms of potential for energy reduction, atom efficiency and effluent treatment.
Reducing the use of metal catalysts
Available stocks of some metals are being depleted at a worrying rate. Industrial biotechnology allows for chemical reactions that are not dependent upon these metals as catalysts and do not, therefore, produce by-products and effluent streams containing metals.
Biomass: Reducing dependance on petroleum products
In a move to reduce society's dependence on petroleum products, alternative sources of chemicals, materials and fuels are being sought with biomass providing an attractive alternative. Non-food crops, agricultural by-products and marine "crops" such as algae are all being developed as sources of material that can be converted into a variety of platform chemicals, bio-fuels and construction composites.
The enzyme catalysed reactions necessary for the successful development of these technologies are being rapidly progressed with many UK companies at the forefront of research. The invention of technologies to convert household waste into useable biomass for these end products also diverts municipal waste away from landfill, so increasing the environmental desirability of these technologies. The Integrated Biorefining Technologies Initiative (IBTI) provides a focus for research, development, demonstration and deployment in this area.
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions
The WWF report on Industrial Biotechnology in 2009 estimated that emissions of carbon dioxide could be reduced by between 1 billion and 2.5 billion tonnes a year by 2030 by implementing industrial biotechnology processes and bio-based products. This is equivalent to more than all of Germany's total emissions for 1990.