Industrial Biotechnology Offers Significant Societal Benefits, Case Studies Find

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 25, 2003) - Although industrial - or white -biotechnology is a relatively new approach to product manufacturing, it can achieve significant environmental and economic advantages over traditional manufacturing processes, according to a report released today at a BIO 2003 press conference in Washington, D.C.

The report, "White Biotechnology: Gateway to a More Sustainable Future," features industrial biotechnology case studies involving the companies BASF, DSM, Novozymes, Cargill Dow and DuPont. The document discusses how each company has used biotechnology to replace traditional manufacturing processes and includes an independent assessment as to the estimated savings it has created in terms of environmental impact and costs.

"Each of the case studies demonstrate the positive contributions that industrial biotechnology can offer in three keys areas of sustainability: society, the environment and the economy," said Brent Erickson, vice president for the Biotechnology Industry Organization's (BIO's) industrial and environmental section. BIO co-sponsored the study with EuropaBio, the European biotechnology organization. "While the United States has done much to encourage this burgeoning area of technology, Europe must do more to stimulate its application."

Industrial biotechnology supplants traditional manufacturing processes by using enzymes rather than chemicals, thereby reducing pollution. Further, the technology is being used to develop new forms of energy production based on agricultural waste derived from corn stalks and rice, rather than oil or coal.

"These new industrial biotech processes will allow us to use enzymes and renewable carbon instead of fossil fuels created by the dinosaurs to fuel our automobiles and our economies, while at the same time helping our environment," said Erickson.

Case Studies

The report examines the following examples of how certain companies have used industrial biotech to improve manufacturing processes:

BASF: By using a biobased fermentation process, BASF creates Vitamin B2 in a single step rather than the traditionally complex, eight-step chemical process. The report estimates that the biotech approach reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent, resource consumption by 60 percent and waste by 95 percent.

DSM: The traditional method for creating the antibiotic Cephalexin involved a 10-step chemical synthesis. By replacing that approach with a combination of a fermentation and enzymatic reaction, DSM has reduced its material use and energy consumption by 65 percent and variable costs by 50 percent.

Novozymes: The scouring process used in the textiles industry usually involves relatively harsh chemical solutions. Novozymes supplies enzymes applied to the water-intensive textiles industry, creating a 25 percent decrease in primary energy demand and a 60 percent drop in emissions to water. Further, the enzymatic process has been shown to reduce costs by 20 percent.

Cargill Dow: The company created NatureWorksTM, a new bio-based polymer, to produce clothing, packaging materials and electronic goods. The product requires 25 to 55 percent less fossil resources.

DuPont: The company created Sorona®, a new bio-based polymer, which will incorporate the use of dextrose from corn as one of its key feedstocks, reducing the use of fossil inputs by 50 percent. Both the Cargill Dow and DuPont products were based on a process developed in collaboration with Genencor.

Fostering Development

"There is a growing awareness in government and by the public that a new holistic way of doing things is in order if economic growth is to continue without producing major negative impacts on our environment," Erickson said. "Sustainable industrial development, as defined by the use of clean technologies to reduce pollution levels and resource consumption through the use of innovative technologies and industrial improvements, is that new way."

The report urges the European countries to adopt policies to foster development of industrial biotechnology by creating financial incentives and a supportive regulatory framework, benchmarking Europe against countries already using the technology, encouraging competitive feedstock prices and building public awareness and support.

BIO represents more than 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations in all 50 U.S. states and 33 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of health-care, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.