Climate change can lead to disastrous consequences like extreme weather conditions which in turn affect the pattern of land usage for agriculture, and consequently bring down food production levels. That apart, climate change can deplete our already scarce resources, like clean drinking water, even further.
How then can biotechnology make a difference? It has been scientifically proved that biotechnology can indeed contribute to a low carbon footprint, and lessen the possibility of climate change. A carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full life cycle of a product or service. Now for example, branded Novozymes emitted 1 million tones of carbon dioxide eq. during their manufacturing process but helped save 28 million tones of carbon dioxide equivalent when used for aiding other manufacturing processes. So securing big emission cuts using enzymes in manufacturing processes (can be used for making paper, washing powder and bioethanol among other things) is not only a possibility but can provide an overall climate positive balance-sheet.
According to certain estimates, biotechnology has the wherewithal to save almost 1 billion tones of carbon emissions annually. Biotechnology can certainly make a difference to climate change because several products that biotechnology has engineered till date are meeting our needs effectively without compromising on the future. Using biotechnology, it is now possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in every manufacturing process, whether it is for making fabrics or auto parts, or anything that is necessary for daily use.
The development of bio-fuels will ensure that we have a future with lesser carbon footprint, especially in making power. However matching advances in the automobile industry are less forthcoming, and so the deployment of bio-fuels in vehicles on a mass scale remains just a mirage. So the situation now is, although we have low carbon transportation fuels but not the platform to enable that technology on a mass scale, the fact remains, that low carbon fuels can perhaps in the future address the problem of climate change.
The fact that major segments of manufacturing industry have been able to reduce costs and prevent pollution using biotechnology is indisputable. In manufacturing industry, chemical synthesis is usually carried out using steam energy (other than in electro-chemical industry) and that requires the use of fossil fuels. On the contrary, fermentation requires more electricity but compared to chemical processes brings about a substantial savings in fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources including a reduction in the use of volatile organic compounds. Here are a few examples across various industry segments as to how biotechnological processes in manufacturing industry can lessen pollution and prevent climate change.
New generation detergent based enzymes allow cold water washing and therefore cuts down on energy bills. A ten degree drop in washing temperature reduces carbon emissions by as much as 100 gms per wash. Besides, when enzymes are used in making detergents, the eco-toxic content of detergents is greatly reduced and the waste water is more environment friendly.
The treatment of cotton fibers prior to dyeing entails the use of several chemicals, which can be substituted with enzymes resulting in savings in the quantity of water and energy. Besides, it results in better strengthening of the cotton fiber, as enzymes are less harsh on the cotton.
In the manufacture of paper and pulp, the use of chlorine dioxide (for bleaching the pulp) can be reduced by using enzymes, and this reduces the overall energy requirement during the bleaching process. Lesser energy requirement means lower emissions.
The use of biotechnological processes instead of chemical reactions for making Vitamin B2 reduces wastes and pollutants, and is therefore environment friendly.
NatureWorks, based in Minnesota makes Ingeo([TM]) fibers and bio-plastics (made from plants and not oil) which is used for packaging a plethora of consumer products, including electronic goods, clothing, cosmetics and so on and a slew of other products with a low carbon footprint.
A Finnish company manufactures proprietary biopolymers from which cups, plates and bio-cutlery are made and which are fully compostible as per European norms. That apart, the manufacture of these products effectively eliminates substantial quantities of greenhouse gases, as compared to say if plastic were used. Bio-based plastics not only reduces our dependency on fossil fuels but expends less energy, consumes very little resources, and more importantly leaves reduced imprint of greenhouse gas emissions.
Interestingly, biotechnology can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the animal husbandry sector. For example, when livestock (cows, sheep) belch they emit methane and this is supposedly responsible for almost 5% of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Adding the amino acid cysteine to livestock fodder solves this problem and prevents methane emissions. Another product that is of interest is Mootral developed by a Welsh company. Essentially Mootral is a garlic extract that when added to the livestock feed reduces methane emissions by as much as 20%. Both are innovative products in the biotechnology sector that assist in reducing carbon footprint.
Certain reports suggest that efficient use of biotechnology in manufacturing industry can eliminate as much as 200 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions annually, and biofuels and renewable chemicals in the petrochemical industry can help save another 1.7 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually. However the fact remains that the potential of biotechnology in the realm of climate control has not been fully realized.
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