Biotechnology is drawing from an evolution of millions of years for developing sustainable processes and materials. During all this time, living beings have specialized in recycling and producing all kinds of materials and compounds. Guy Galboiz states that biological processes can come in handy for replacing chemical methods that cause pollution, which would enable us to break down waste efficiently and produce new materials with lower energy use, land, water and pollution. With climate change looming like a dark cloud over our future, many industries have switched to biology for solutions that can make the world more sustainable.
According to Guy Galboiz, biotech companies are rising to this new challenge and there are virtually unlimited applications where biotechnology can make a big difference in ensuring sustainability. Some of these have been highlighted below:
One of the major environmental issues that the world is currently facing is plastic pollution. Tons of non-biodegradable plastic is thrown on a daily basis and petrochemical plastic production plans also have a lot of waste. Guy Galboiz says that these are creating huge problems for the environment and a more sustainable alternative is to use new technologies that can incorporate biology for the production of plastics. There are companies that have come up with methods of producing 100% recyclable bioplastics from forestry and agriculture waste.
Likewise, there are also biotech companies that are working on using microbial enzymes for recycling plastics that are commonly used. These can end up making a big difference in the long run, especially where people are becoming more and more environmental conscious.
- Enzymatic detergents
Industrial biotechnology’s earliest applications included more sustainable and stronger detergents. The first enzymatic detergents were sold back in the 60s by Novozymes, a Danish biotech giant. These comprise of specialized enzymes that are obtained from microorganisms and are capable of breaking down the molecules behind difficult stains, such as fat and blood. As opposed to their chemical alternatives, these enzymatic detergents are biodegradable.
With time, new generations of these detergents have been developed and they have shown better effectiveness. As per Guy Galboiz, a big benefit of these enzymatic detergents is that they can work at lower temperatures as well. This means that there could be a significant reduction in the amount of energy used for washing clothes.
The biggest culprit behind the increased air pollution are fossil fuels and this form of pollution is estimated to claim millions of lives every year. Therefore, Guy Galboiz says that it is not surprising that biofuels obtained from crops have become an increasingly popular alternative. The problem is that these crops are now competing for agricultural land, which could result in rising food prices and deforestation.
A number of companies are now resorting to use the natural ability of some microorganisms for breaking down forestry and agricultural waste in order to produce fuels. ExxonMobil is an excellent example, as is German company Solaga and Spanish firm AlgaEnergy.
- Construction materials
Large quantities of water and energy and toxic chemicals are needed for the production of a lot of material used in construction, such as concrete. These processes are also known to generate high levels of carbon emissions, which play a vital role in global warming. Guy Galboiz states that moving towards biology can help in finding more sustainable alternatives. Biohm is a startup in London that has made an effort to use organic waste for the production of construction materials.
One way it has been accomplished is with mushrooms, as it can be fed with a variety of waste for producing a material boasting custom characteristics. Likewise, Green Basilisk is a company in Netherlands that have embedded concrete with bacteria that can help in repairing the material when it gets damaged, thereby increasing its lifespan.
Chemical crop fertilizer play a very prominent role in environmental pollution all over the globe. Guy Galboiz believes that replacing these fertilizers with living microbes would be a more sustainable alternative. How? These microbes can interact with the plans for stimulating their health and growth. This is the purpose of companies like Xtrem Biotech in Spain, Kapsera in France and Aphea.Bio in Belgium.
Traditionally, most of the flavorings used in food items were extracted from plants. However, the ones that are used today are mostly produced via different petrochemical processes. Guy Galboiz states that biotechnology provides a more environmentally friendly alternative and it doesn’t require as much resources and land as traditional methods; a single liter of the orange flavoring molecule called valencene is produced with 160,000 oranges.
Instead of doing so, yeast or bacteria can be engineered for producing these molecules in huge amounts and virtually any flavoring can be made in industrial vats. Switzerland’s Evolvia has become a leader in this field, as they introduced Stevia, the natural sweetener. They have also introduced grapefruit, vanilla and orange flavors. There are other biotech companies that are also working on the same.
There are a number of natural cosmetics that comprise of active ingredients, which are obtained from plants. But, according to Guy Galboiz, the amount of these ingredients obtained from plants is very small, as opposed to the amount of energy, land and water that are needed for producing it. Therefore, there are companies that are focusing on producing the same compounds in a more sustainable manner, such as through microbial fermentation. In fact, this technology was used for launching the first pure form of phytoene, which is an anti-aging compound.
Harsh chemicals are used by current methods implemented for getting rid of dangerous pathogens. These not only pollute the environment, but can also be toxic for human beings and other living beings. Guy Galboiz highlights that biotechnology can provide an eco-friendly alternative of using natural mechanisms for fighting pathogens. This includes designing molecules for selectively killing crop infections.
These are just some of the ways that biotechnology is and can make the world more sustainable for our future generations.