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Biotechnology Propelling the World Towards Sustainability
Fremont, CA: Biotechnology is uniquely positioned to substitute more sustainable biological alternatives for polluting materials and chemical processes. This scientific field is based on millions of years of evolution in which living beings have specialized in producing and recycling various compounds and materials. These biological processes can be used to break down waste and produce materials with less pollution, land, water, and energy consumption than traditional methods.
The number of applications where biotechnology could help with sustainability is virtually limitless. Here are some important areas where biotechnology is already having an impact.
The primary source of air pollution, which is estimated to kill millions of people each year, is fossil fuels. Biofuels derived from crops have become a more popular alternative in recent years. These crops, however, are beginning to compete for agricultural land, which may contribute to deforestation and rising food prices.
Several companies are harnessing the natural ability of some microorganisms to degrade agricultural or forestry waste in order to produce fuels. This is one of the goals of Global Bioenergies, a French company that is collaborating with Audi to produce gasoline from sustainable sources such as wheat straw and wood chips. Clariant, a Swiss company, is also working with ExxonMobil to develop methods for converting agricultural waste into biodiesel. Other companies, such as Solaga in Germany and AlgaEnergy in Spain, are investigating the use of algae to produce fuels from sunlight and carbon dioxide.
One of the first applications of industrial biotechnology was stronger and more sustainable detergents. Novozymes, a Danish biotech giant, began selling the first enzymatic detergents in the 1960s. They are made up of specialized enzymes derived from microorganisms that can break down molecules that cause difficult stains, such as blood and fat. Enzymatic detergents, unlike chemical alternatives, are biodegradable.
New generations of enzymatic detergents have become increasingly effective over time. One significant advantage is that they can operate at lower temperatures, reducing the amount of energy expended on laundry. Furthermore, enzymatic detergents can clean medical equipment more thoroughly and efficiently than traditional cleaning solutions.
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