Bio Based Economy

Industrial biotechnology is a key technology to realizing the knowledge-based bioeconomy by transforming the knowledge of life sciences into new, sustainable, eco-efficient and competitive products. This includes an optimized combination of the biotechnology processes with classical and new biochemical processes - especially in the chemical, materials and biofuels sectors. The following three topics have been identified as being of major importance to facilitate the development of a bio-based economy and industrial biotechnology:

1. Biocatalysis - novel and improved enzymes and processes. Biocatalysis focuses on two aspects: (i) the discovery and improvement of novel selective biocatalysts suitable for industrial use and (ii) the development of a systematic process design technology for a quick and reliable selection of new and clean high-performance manufacturing process configurations. The aim of research in biocatalysis is to: (i) employ nature's toolkit to enable cleaner, safer and more cost-efficient processes, (ii) address the increasing need for selectivity, stability and efficiency using enzymes as catalysts, (iii) enable novel chemo-enzymatic processes through the discovery, evolution and/or design of enzymes and (iv) solve reaction and process problems through the search for novel biocatalytic functions and the selection of new high-performance process configurations. We may cite that

Table 1.10 Case studies that demonstrate sustainability. Source: adapted from Kamm etal. [101].

Selected case studies

Environmental impact


Energy Raw CO2

efficiency materials emissions

Production costs

Vitamin B2 (BASF) Antibiotic cephalexin (DSM) Scouring enzyme (Novozymes) NatureWorks (Cargill Dow) Sorona (DuPont)

several environmental studies in which the impact of replacing chemical synthesis with biotech routes has demonstrated the benefits of industrial biotechnology [101]. In particular, two reports - one authored by the OECD [102], which includes 21 case studies on the impact of biotechnology on the environment, the other by a consortium of companies, industry associations, the ├ľko-Institut, and McKinsey [103] - have demonstrated clearly that industrial biotech can help to create jobs, boost profits and benefit the environment (Table 1.10). The German chemical company BASF was able to adopt biotech processes to transform the production of vitamin B2. Traditionally, its synthesis requires a complicated eight-step chemical process, but biotech reduces it to just one step. Soy oil is fed to a mould and vitamin B2 is recovered as yellow crystals directly from the fermentation process. This has cut production costs by 40% and reduced CO2 emissions by 30% and waste by 95%. The antibiotic cephalexin has been produced on an industrial scale by the Dutch chemicals firm DSM for several years. Metabolic pathway engineering helps to establish a bio-route that reduce substantially the number of steps needed in the process. The biotech process uses 65% less energy, 65% less input chemicals, is water-based and generates less waste. In total, the variable costs of the process decreases to nearly half. Novozymes, a Danish biotech company, produces enzymes for the scouring process in the textile industry. Scouring, which removes the brown, non-cellulose parts of cotton, traditionally requires a harsh alkaline chemical solution. Use of enzymes not only reduces discharges into the water by 60% but reduces also energy costs by a quarter. Environmental and economic benefits go hand in hand: the new process is also 20% cheaper than the chemical treatment. Cargill Dow's bio-polymer PLA made from corn requires 25 to 55% fewer fossil resources than the conventional polymers against which it competes. With the help of biomass and potentially other forms of renewable energy for processing, the joint venture between Cargill and Dow Chemical believes PLA could even become a net carbon sink. In the near future DuPont's Sorona polymer will be based on propanediol (PDO) produced by fermentation, in collaboration with Tate and Lyle. This is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 40%.

2. Developing the next generation of high efficiency fermentation processes, including novel and improved production of microorganisms/hosts. Fermentation processes are commonly used today to manufacture numerous products; however, major technological improvements are needed to increase competitiveness. Current bottlenecks include low volumetric productivity and low yield of the microorganisms under non-optimal fermentation conditions in bioreactors. Another setback is the limited understanding of cellular behavior in bioreactor surroundings. Therefore, the major aims are to (i) enhance existing or new microorganisms to reach optimum production capacities under industrial conditions, (ii) develop analytical tools for monitoring the events in the bioreactor and mathematical models to control better processes and to improve their understanding for strain optimization and (iii) improve fermentation process engineering through better bioreactors and downstream processing.

3. Process eco-efficiency and integration: the biorefinery concept. Since it produces multiple products a biorefinery maximizes the value derived from the complex biomass feedstock. It relies on the best use and valorization of feedstock, optimization and integration of processes for a better efficiency, optimization of inputs (water, energy, etc.) and waste recycling/treatment. The main focus points of research are: (i) improving biorefining technologies, (ii) integrating the products into existing value chains and (iii) establishing strategies and business models for sustainability and competitiveness.

Regarding biorefinery, the recently published book Biorefineries - Industrial Processes and Products [101] provides an excellent overview of the status quo and future directions in this area.

Biotech also plays a critical role in rekindling chemical innovation. At a time of increasing competition from Asia in established products and the subsequent commoditization and strong price decline, chemical companies are once again looking at innovation as a key source of differentiation, as commented in previous sections. The importance of stimulating innovation can be seen by looking at the introduction of new polymers. During the twentieth century the development of fossil-fuel-based polymers increased steadily through to the post-war period, stimulated by the abundance and low cost of basic petrochemicals. It has, however, declined dramatically since 1960. Innovation in the traditional polymer industry today is mainly related to the application and blending of these polymers, rather than to the invention of new ones (Figure 1.18). Just as low-cost petrochemical building blocks such as ethylene, propylene and butadiene became available with the introduction of crackers in the 1930s it is necessary now to introduce new bio-based building blocks. These include lactic acid, which can be polymerized to the biopolymer PLA (polylactic acid). PLA has started to replace polyester because of its competitive cost and new applications. Lactic acid can also be processed into chiral drugs, acrylic acid, propylene glycol, food additives, and more. Other examples of innovation abound - Cargill is exploring the potential of 3-hydroxyproprionic acid as a new building block; BASF is looking into new chemistry around the simple organic molecule succinic acid; and DuPont will use cheap propandiol (PDO) as a monomer for its Sorona polymer.

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