Industrial biotech leading a green revolution

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Related tags: Cent, Carbon dioxide

The annual US Biotechnology Industry Association event started this
weekend in San Francisco with the usual showcase of new
biopharmaceuticals and other technologies. But aside from supplying
the drugs of the future, the biotechnology industry is also
cleaning up the supply of older medicines, reports Phil
Taylor.

The BIO​'s Industrial and Environmental Group kicked off the show with the publication of a new report - called New Biotech Tools for a Cleaner Environment​ - which details how industrial biotechnology is improving the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, as well as other products.

The report delivers a stark warning, however, that the use of clean technologies and 'green' chemistry to make fundamental process changes to reduce pollution levels and resource consumption is being hindered by slow adoption by government policymakers, corporate leaders, and non-governmental organisation (NGO) leaders.

"Public policies and regulations do not provide adequate incentives for technological innovations, such as biotechnology-based pollution prevention and energy savings,"​ claims the report.

"In 2001, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) prepared a trailblazing report that presented 21 real world case studies in which biotechnology was applied to existing industrial processes,"​ it says. "We have attempted to build on the 2001 OECD study by asking the next obvious question: What if industrial biotechnology were more widely used?"

Biotechnology process changes in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical sector, such as during the production of riboflavin (vitamin B2), can lead to dramatic reductions in emissions. Using biotech to manufacture riboflavin has reduced associated carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent and water emissions by 67 per cent.

Meanwhile, changes in the production of the semi synthetic antibiotic cephalexin have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 50 per cent, energy demand by 20 per cent, and water usage by 75 per cent, according to the BIO.

The adoption of the new riboflavin process had a deep impact on the market for the ingredients, with the market share of the biotech-derived version rising from 5 per cent in 1990 to 75 per cent in 2002.

"These cases are particularly noteworthy because they demonstrate that significant adoption of a technology is possible within a sector,"​ notes the report, although it concedes that the drug industry differs from many manufacturing sectors in that it goes through rapid change as new products are introduced.

The overall report covers not just pharmaceuticals but also the paper and pulp industry, chemicals, textiles and fuels - which together account for 40 per cent of the global industry's energy use, 50 per cent of industrial pollution and are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Because industrial biotechnology reduces - and in some cases eliminates - industrial waste, businesses will spend less on clean-up, disposal, and control of pollution, according to the BIO.

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