From detergents to bio-ethanol
Biotechnology embraces a large number of biological processes and manipulation of biological processes and material.
Red biotechnology is biotechnology applied to medical processes. An example would include an organism designed to produce an antibiotic, or engineering genetic cures to diseases through genomic manipulation. White biotechnology, also known as 'green chemicals', is biotechnology applied to industrial processes. An example would include an organism designed to produce a useful chemical.
Green biotechnology is biotechnology applied to agricultural processes. An example would include enzymes produced from genetically modified organisms used as feed additives in order to reduce the content of phosphorus in the manure. Another example of this would include a plant engineered to resist specific insects, thereby eliminating the need for external application of insecticides.
The term blue biotechnology has also been used to describe the marine and aquatic applications of biotechnology, but its use is relatively rare.
Some of the general environmental benefits from biotechnology are expected to be increased resource efficiency, substitution of scarce resources, and substitution of harmful chemicals.
Potentials and perspectives
Enzymes do the job
The Green Technology Foresight published by the Danish EPA identifies a number of focus areas in which white biotechnology has environmental potential. Examples are:
Enzyme technology is by far the largest field of industrial biotechnology in Denmark. Enzymes are active in very low doses and are able to operate under a variety of conditions. The use of enzymes often leads to lower process temperatures, substitution of chemical substances and overall savings of raw material in general because of high efficiency.
Industries in which the enzymes are used as catalysts for reducing resource use or for substituting resources include:
pulp and paper industry,
food and drink,
nimal feed, and
Detergents have been known as an area of applications of enzymes since the 1950s, an area which has increased immensely in the last 20 years and is still increasing. The use of enzymes, together with developments in detergents, has reduced washing temperatures to 30-40 degrees, temperatures which are expected to be reduced even further. Scarcity of water and increasing oil and water prices are expected to further the development.
Bio-plastic production from organic (waste) material and plastic production with the help of enzymes have been used as examples in several of the surveys conducted on sustainable biotechnology in industry. Two environmental objectives, not necessarily interdependent, have been advanced: the release of plastic production from fossil fuels, and biodegradation of the plastics material to reduce waste, especially in food packaging and field-covering plastic.
Bio-remediation of soil
The use of genetically engineered micro organisms for bio-remediation of e.g. oil pollution, is another field of application for biotechnology. At this point, however, there is only limited Danish experience in this field. There is some hesitation as regards further development of the field, as the risk of releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment has yet to be fully investigated.
Biosafety of modified organisms
Over the years, the safety of using genetically modified organisms (GMO's) and releasing GMO's to the environment has been fiercely debated. In Denmark, the Forest and Nature Agency is the responsible authority for regulating the use, experimental release and marketing of GMO's. Part of the process is a thorough risk assessment of possible environmental and human health effects.
The Danish Biosafety Clearing House is the authority for exchanging information on living modified organisms (LMO's) and their regulation according to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The purpose of the Protocol is to ensure an adequate safety level in relation to transboundery handling and use of LMO's.
More information on biotechnology and eco-innovation:
Green Technology Foresight:
Danish Environmental Protection Agency (authority for GMO's) (in Danish):
Danish Biosafety Clearing House:
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety: