California, United States [RenewableEnergyWorld.com] Biotechnology offers some of the best opportunities to create a more sustainable world, with applications as diverse as new sources of energy, new materials for industrial and consumer uses and high quality agricultural products with better production economics. Despite all this, for new products and technologies to be truly sustainable according to an international panel of industry, governmental and venture capital representatives at the 2008 BIO International Convention in San Diego they must be both good for society and the environment, as well as have real economic value.
“Excitement about biofuels and other new energy sources has served to bring growing interest to the concept of creating industries that are more sustainable over the long term and respond to environmental concerns,” said Michael Pavia, entrepreneur-in-residence at venture capital firm, Oxford Biosciences. “Investors are increasingly recognizing the much larger business opportunities and enormous synergies that lie in applying biotechnology to other areas in the service of sustainability.”
“For example, New Zealand has a long history of life science research applied to agriculture that is now being leveraged across a wide range of applications not only in food production, but far beyond,” said Chris Boalch, Ph.D, director og Investment New Zealand. “These include the development of new biomaterials to replace older petroleum-based products and more economic, environmentally sound agricultural methods, as well as technologies and products that deliver prospects for better health, in more sustainable, integrated ways.”
Boalch noted that as part of the country’s goal of becoming the first truly sustainable nation, New Zealand had recently announced a major government-industry partnership to jointly fund innovative R&D aimed at making the country’s pastoral and food industries environmentally and economically sustainable.
Much of the new investment interest has been in the area of biomaterials. Jim Mills, president and CEO of U.S. start-up Draths Corporation noted that biotechnology offers the potential to reduce much of industry’s reliance on petrochemicals, as bio-based approaches are increasingly applied to the production of fine chemicals and chemical intermediates, strategic materials and other previously petroleum-derived products.
Equally important as “green” materials to the mission of sustainability is the development of more sustainable production methods, said Paul Kinnon, President and CEO of ZyGEM, which has operations in both New Zealand and the United States.
Kinnon noted that many enzymes sourced from microorganisms living in extreme environments around the globe, such as the volcanic vents bio-prospected by ZyGEM, offer unique characteristics that can be exceptionally valuable in developing new technologies for clinical, industrial and laboratory purposes, including the efficient production of biofuels from a variety of sources.
Bruce Campbell Ph.D, General Manager of Science Operations and Acting CEO at New Zealand’s HortResearch says biotechnology will also improve the sustainability of horticultural production systems, as well as generating new plant-derived biomaterials.
“Unlocking the genome of economically important fruit species enables us to breed cultivars adapted to climate change and with reduced need for agrichemical inputs and irrigation. It also allows fruit genes to be used in industrial applications, such as the biofermentation of nature-identical fruit flavors and fragrances,” Campbell said.Joan E. Kureczka is the founding partner of Kureczka/Martin Associates, a firm offering corporate communications for the life sciences. She holds an M.S. in environmental management from the University of San Francisco.