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Biotechnology and the Sustainable Choice: The winning connection

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Contributed by Claus Stig Pedersen, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Novozymes Novozymes A/S, Krogshoejvej 36, 2880 Bagsvaerd, Denmark


A few years ago, a report published by WWF concluded that industrial biotechnology has the potential to save the planet up to 2.5 billion tons on CO2 emissions per year - more than Germany’s total reported emissions in 1990 - and support building a sustainable future. Industrial biotechnology could help create a true 21st century green economy, as the WWF report states (1).

In 2013, industrial biotechnology became extremely visible on the political agenda with the EU Commission proposing a €3.8 billion Public Private Partnership (PPP) on Biobased Industries (2), in order to accelerate the commercialization of biobased products in Europe. The European Commission will invest €1 billion and industry €2.8 billion, from 2014 to 2020, to boost market uptake of new biobased products that are “made in Europe.”

The UN agrees that biotech is key to solving the world’s toughest human challenges. We have also seen China make biotechnology a priority in its recent five-year plan. Industrial biotechnology applications are widely used in everyday life by people all over the world – and have been for years. They help reduce the amount of time needed to bake fresh bread, help us to produce fuel from corn and waste materials and save heat in laundry washing. In this way, biotechnology helps to replace chemicals and it offers a way to produce more with less energy and fewer raw materials.


One of the companies delivering biotechnological solutions is Novozymes, the world’s biggest producer of industrial enzymes as well as microorganisms, and the solutions provided by Novozymes are very much focused on feeding and fueling the world. Feeding the world is critical and an area in which Novozymes is fully engaged. According to UN researchers, demand for agricultural output is projected to grow by at least 70% by 2050. For this reason, Novozymes has engaged in a strategic alliance with Monsanto.

Naturally occurring solutions such as microbials, plant extracts, beneficial insects and other organic material will allow farmers to improve crop health and productivity. The collaboration between the two companies plans to transform research and commercialization of environmentally friendly microbial products that will provide a new platform of solutions for growers around the world.

To do so, Novozymes is establishing a new RH&D center in North Carolina dedicated to its bioagriculture business. Scientists at the new site in North Carolina will research and develop beneficial microorganisms found in the soil. The resulting technology will focus on improved crop yield, fertility and pest control for growers around the world. The significant expansion of R&D resources will enable Novozymes’ scientists to pursue an increased number of, as well as improved, biological solutions for the ever-changing challenges facing global agriculture.

Biotech is also certainly helping to fuel the world. Using biological processes such as fermentation and harnessing biocatalysts such as enzymes, yeast and other microbes to produce biofuels, we can reduce the use of petroleum, water and energy and reduce waste. Right now, biomass conversion is emerging and the technology is consistently developing to make production of cellulosic ethanol more cost-efficient and commercially viable.

Novozymes has partnered with Beta Renewables to demonstrate 2G, or second generation, technology on a commercial scale. 2G technology uses fuels that are manufactured from various types of biomass, and the Crescentino plant in Italy has an annual production capacity of 40,000 metric tons. The plant uses wheat straw, rice straw and arundo donax, a high-yielding energy crop grown on marginal land.


Under these headlines, Novozymes supply enzymes for five major global industries: Household Care, Food & Beverages, Bioenergy, Agriculture & Feed, and Technical & Pharma. Use of enzymes in each industry will provide environmental benefits. Enzymes used in laundry can replace surfactants in the detergent and work to reduce the washing temperature is minimized. Life cycle assessment is used to compare the environmental impact of enzyme production with the avoided impacts obtained by surfactant saving and reduced electricity production for heating wash water.

At first sight, the use of enzymes in laundry is not something that one would believe would have significant environmental effects. Doing laundry is one of the activities that consumes the most energy in an ordinary household. By washing at 30°C rather than 60°C or 40°C, the CO2 savings potential in Europe and the U.S. is around 32 million tons – equivalent to emissions from 8 million cars. At the same time, enzymes have the potential to replace up to 50% of surfactants, while maintaining cost and washing performance. If all Europeans washed their clothes using cold water, it would be possible to close three large coal-fired power stations, reducing the continent’s CO2 emissions by 12 million tons a year.


Many of these biosolutions come together and offer improved environmental performance for customers compared with conventional technologies. Not only does this result in higher-quality products at lower costs, it also enables our customers to reduce their CO2 emissions. Lower CO2 emissions help reduce the stress on our global climate and support the mitigation of climate change.

For 10 years, Novozymes has conducted peer-reviewed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies to document the environmental impact of its biosolutions (3), and we develop specific claims together with our customers. We specifically advise our customers and partners on ways to reduce their CO2 emissions and leverage the positive impact on climate change that our products enable. We estimate that our customers avoided 60 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2014 by applying our products, the equivalent of taking approximately 25 million cars off the road. This is an increase of 8 million tons compared with 2013, and was driven primarily by increased sales and performance of our solutions for biofuels, household care and textiles. To give one example: In 2014, we conducted a comprehensive study (including an LCA and a consumer survey) to better understand and document how Novozymes’ patented biopolishing solutions can improve the quality of cotton clothing and extend its lifetime.

By using our biopolishing solutions, customers strengthen their brand and gain premium-pricing opportunities, fewer garments go to waste, and resource efficiency increases throughout the garment production chain. The study documents that our biopolishing solutions could potentially be applied in 40% of the world’s annual cotton production, and result in savings of approximately 24 million tons of CO2 emissions and 27 billion m3 of water. The study will be published in 2015.


Building on biotechnology, sustainability is an intrinsic part of the business for Novozymes. It is the nature of our technology and the technology comes from nature itself. Sustainability is fully integrated into Novozymes’ business and drives innovation for the company. In 2013, Novozymes was ranked as the most sustainable company in the Biotechnology Industry category of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the 12th time. At Novozymes, sustainability is a business driver on three levels; 1) To operate responsibly, 2) To grow our current business, and 3) To develop new business. Through working responsibly, we strive to live out what we believe in and constantly challenge ourselves to optimize our business practices and improve our sustainability impact.


The generally positive sustainability impact of Novozymes’ solutions helps to grow the current business; the solutions enable the customers to meet their sustainability agendas through optimizing their use of raw materials and energy. Customers like what is offered by biotechnology, however, enzymes used in detergent need to be cost-competitive and better performing than the chemicals they replace. “Consumers are really excited about low temperature detergents because that translates to immediate savings on their electricity bills,” Peder Holk Nielsen explained in an interview with Forbes (4). But he also explained that most consumers aren’t willing to pay for those savings. When you look at the positioning of products as renewable or having a lower footprint, the big companies share data that roughly suggests that a lot of consumers would never buy a product that has a green label because they are suspicious of its performance.


Nevertheless, even though end users don’t seem willing to pay for sustainable savings and that sustainability has somehow faded from the global agenda, Novozymes has made it an integral part of its business – and has done so for years. To emphasize this, in 2015 Novozymes presented a renewed strategy with the headline of: “Together we find biological answers to better the growing world – let’s rethink tomorrow”.

Novozymes’ renewed strategy is also very specific and has a number of sustainability targets:

  • REACH six billion people with our biological solutions
  • EDUCATE 1 million people about the potential of biology from 2015-2020
  • CATALYZE five global partnerships for change from 2015-2020
  • DELIVER 10 transformative innovations from 2015-2020
  • SAVE 100 million tons of CO2 by 2020


To protect the world from the devastating effects of climate change all relevant technologies need to be put to use. Biotechnology is in use today and interest for the technology is increasing for good reasons. Today the world runs on fossil fuels; and we all know that this has high and long-term costs for our planet.

Biotechnology is a way to use renewable biomass as the most important raw material, enabling the production of the same products we get from oil today. A change from an oil-based economy to a biobased economy means a future where biorefineries replace oil refineries, and biological raw materials replace fossil fuels as the primary feedstock for materials, fuels and energy. The best news is that we have the technology ready here today – it is called biotechnology.

This article was originally published on Household and Personal Care Today, a publication from Tekno Scienze Publisher:






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