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Better biotech could cut CO2 emissions by billions of tonnes

BiotechImproved industrial biotechnology — everything from finding better ways to turn waste into fuel to speeding up the time it takes to bake bread — could reduce the planet’s carbon emissions by up to 2.5 billion tonnes per year, according to the WWF.

That’s more than all the CO2 generated by Germany in 1990.

A report from WWF Denmark concludes that industrial biotechnology offers the potential to create a true 21st century green economy.

Industrial biotechnology applications are already widely used in everyday life. They help reduce the amount of time needed to bake fresh bread, increase the yield in wine, cheese and vegetable oil production and save heat in laundry washing. Newer examples of biotechnology in action include harvesting of biogas from waste digesters and wastewater streams.

“Low-carbon biotech solutions are a good example of hidden or invisible climate solutions that are all around us already today but are easy to overlook for policymakers, investors and companies,” said John Kornerup Bang, co-author of the report and head of the globalisation programme at WWF Denmark.

By taking existing technology even one step further, the potential exists to create fully closed — thus, highly efficient — loop systems, the report finds.

Biorefineries, for example, can transform any bio-based waste material into feedstock that could be used to produce other bio-based materials. The possible emission reductions for such processes are estimated to be as high as 633 million tonnes of CO2.

The report indentifies four fundamental dimensions of industrial biotechnology: Improved efficiency, the substitution of fossil fuels, the substitution of oil-based materials and the creation of a closed-loop system with the potential to eliminate waste.

As with most technologies, however, the potential to achieve sustainability objectives does not automatically translate into such goals be­ing realised, the reports authors concluded.

“Politicians need to set the path toward a green economy,” Bang said. “This will not be easy, and we must look for new solutions, which can help us reduce emissions very quickly. It is clear that there is no alternative to explore these inno­vative pathways.”

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