Biotechnology Offers Groundbreaking, Innovative Solution to Oil Addiction; Congress Can Hurry the Future

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 13, 2006) – Jim Greenwood, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) president & CEO, stated today, “Industrial biotechnology is causing a dramatic paradigm shift in transportation fuels that will end our national addiction to oil. We need to rapidly move forward commercializing these technologies for cellulosic ethanol production, which will strengthen our energy and national security. Congress can improve our energy independence by acting decisively to provide the funding and loan guarantees authorized in last year’s energy bill, speeding up the delivery of this vital fuel to the pumps so consumers can begin using it. ”

Greenwood made his remarks at a panel of experts and industry representatives convened today. This panel described the industrial biotechnology processes that make possible large-scale, inexpensive production of cellulosic ethanol from crop waste and switch grass. The event was hosted by BIO.

BIO released a letter to Congressional appropriators requesting full funding for programs authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that would support research and development into advanced cellulosic ethanol production, support private investment in modern biorefinery construction, and provide loan guarantees and market incentives for rapid adoption of cellulosic ethanol motor fuel. If Congressional commitments are made now, cellulosic ethanol could quickly replace much of the imported oil in America’s domestic transportation fuel supply.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush voiced his support of cellulosic ethanol technology and announced his intention to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. “By building modern biorefineries and using biotech enzymes that convert crop waste and switch grass to ethanol, we could significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil sources by producing between 25 to 50 percent of our transportation fuel domestically,” Greenwood continued.

Panelists at the event described how industrial biotechnology, often called the third wave in biotechnology innovation, is using novel biotech tools to identify or improve enzymes from microbes for use in converting the hard, fibrous content of plants, primarily cellulose and lignin, to sugars. These sugars can then be fermented by biotech improved bacteria to make ethanol transportation fuel or biobased plastics. Recently completed research on enzymes makes possible large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol from dedicated energy crops –like switch grass—or crop wastes such as corn stover and wheat straw or rice straw – at a cost competitive with petroleum-based fuels.

“Industrial biotech is the enabling technology that will allow farmers to harvest two crops from every field—a food crop and a biomass crop for fuel production. Biotech breakthroughs mean that the nation’s breadbasket could also become the energy fields of the United States. The question is not when, but how soon this will happen,” said Brent Erickson, BIO’s executive vice president for industrial and environmental biotechnology.

BIO represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and 31 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.