What is industrial biotechnology?
Industrial biotechnology is a set of practices that use living cells (such as bacteria, yeast, algae) or component cells like enzymes, to generate industrial products and processes. Products include biomass-based materials such as fuels and chemicals, while processes include the treatment of waste water and energy efficiency measures.
The most established application of industrial biotechnology is in the food and beverage sector. For example, microbes (yeast) or enzymes are used to produce beer and wine as well as dairy goods such as cheese. However, biotechnology is being increasingly applied to improve manufacturing processes and to solve environmental problems.
Industrial biotechnology can be used to:
- Create new products, such as plant-based biodegradable plastics;
- Replace petroleum-based feedstocks by processing biomass using biorefineries to generate electricity, transport fuels or chemicals;
- Modify and develop new industrial processes, such as by using enzymes to reduce the amount of harsh chemicals used in textiles and the pulp and paper industry;
- Reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing; for example by treating industrial wastewater onsite using biological mediums such as microbes;
- Provide energy savings by adding enzymes in detergents, allowing clothes to be washed in lower temperatures; and
- Provide water savings through more efficient processes such as using enzymes to break down chemicals and reduce subsequent washing steps in the textile industry.
Industrial biotechnology is also a key enabling technology to realise a Bioeconomy, a sustainable economy that uses biological resources (such as biomass) as an input to industrial processes, and bio-based processes to help industries become more environmentally sustainable. A major driver for a Bioeconomy is the expected decrease in the global supply for cheap and easily extractable oil. A Bioeconomy could be expected to increase food security, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and fisheries, and generate sustainable growth and jobs. Please see the Bioeconomy and Industrial Biotechnology page for more information.
Industrial biotechnology in Australia
Within Australia, biotechnology has traditionally been associated with the medical and pharmaceutical sectors. However, Australia has a broad capability in industrial biotechnology with both research and commercial activities across several key areas including:
- Biomaterials: for example, Australian company Plantic produces biopolymers and plastics based on corn;
- Biofuels (bioethanol and biodiesel): there are several first-generation biofuel plants in Australia, as well as research into second generation fuel production (see the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism's Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Program) ;
- Chemicals and enzymes: for example, Languard is an enzyme-based product that can rapidly degrade pesticide residues, and was jointly developed by CSIRO and a commercial partner; and
- Biomining: the use of micro-organisms to extract metal from ores is an emerging approach for processing low grade or difficult ores (for examples see The Parker Centre Cooperative Research Centre).
Further examples of industrial biotechnologies which have already been adopted by Australian companies can be found in the Boost your Business with Biotech brochures on the Industrial Biotechnology Strategy page. More information on Australia's industrial biotechnology capabilities can be found at the Australian Trade Commission website.
The department has produced case studies to showcase applications of industrial and agricultural biotechnology:
- Biofiba – biodegradable packaging materials
- Hexima – disease resistant crops
- Licella – biofuels from plant waste
- MBD Energy – bioremediation with algae
- Microbiogen – fuel and feed from plant biomass
Industrial Biotechnology Strategy
In 2008, the Department released an Industrial Biotechnology Strategy highlighting the benefits that industrial applications of biotechnology can offer Australian companies. A brochure on the Strategy is available here. Additional information is available at the Industrial Biotechnology Strategy page.