Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Dec 25, 2002
Industry & Economy
Bio-tech & Genetics
`Biotech an effective tool in controlling pollution'
KOCHI, Dec. 24
WITH environmental protection becoming a global concern, the chemical industry the world over seems determined to re-examine conventional methodologies. It is seeking ways of developing and applying more efficient and environmentally benign strategies for future sustainable growth.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), industrial sustainability was the continuous innovation, improvement and use of clean technology to reduce pollution levels and consumption of resources, Mr M.P. Sukumaran Nair, technocrat and environmental expert told Business Line after participating in a national conference of chemical engineers at Bangalore.
According to him, chemical processes for controlling pollution such as neutralisation, coagulation, flocculation, chemical decomposition are costly and leave residues. It is at this point the biological methods of pollution control are most relevant.
The scope of biotechnology has grown from simple wine fermentation to large scale industrial applications of not only beer, wine, cheese and milk production but also for the production of a variety of new products - antibiotics, enzymes, steroidal hormones, vitamins, sugars and organic acids and a host of other specialised applications.
"Today it is a multibillion-dollar global industry on the threshold of growth. According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization of the US, the industry tripled its revenue size from $8 billion in 1993 to $25 billion in 2001 and is set to achieve $60 billion from the sale of biotech products by 2015", he pointed out.
Biotechnological decomposition is achieved by the activity of micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungus and algae and enzymes catalyse such reactions. The technology uses a set of tools developed to deal with cells and other objects (e.g., enzymes) derived from complex organisms in tissue culture. Biotechnology is beneficial because it is used to assess the state of ecological systems, transform pollutants into benign substances, generate biodegradable materials from renewable sources and develop environmentally safe manufacturing and disposal processes.
The benefits of biotechnology are many and include providing resistance to crop pests, improve production and reduce use of toxic chemical pesticides, thereby making major improvements in food quality and environmental protection. Environmental biotechnology is not a new development. However, recent developments in molecular biology, ecology, and environmental engineering now offer opportunities to modify organisms so that their basic biological processes are more efficient and can degrade more complex chemicals and higher volumes of waste materials.
Bio-scrubbers and boilers especially have been successful in the treatment of gaseous emissions. Another successful application of environmental biotechnology has been in the treatment of petroleum wastes.
Here the thrust is on waste reduction and waste elimination and at the same time achieving higher resource productivity. Natural processes operate like a closed system wherein every output is returned harmlessly to the ecosystem as a nutrient like compost or becomes an input for manufacturing another product. "Thus, in all the natural processes, we see around us that least waste is generated and everything is recycled or degraded to the lowest level", said Mr Nair.
Industrial processes where biotechnology could play a major role were agricultural processing, fertiliser, refinery and petrochemical, food, pharmaceutical, chemical, plastics, textile, paper, dyes, perfumery etc., he said.
A direct impact of application of industrial and environmental biotechnology in chemical industry is the elimination of waste streams as such. Biotechnology also offers non-toxic, renewable and biodegradable bio-fuels such as ethanol and bio-diesel that have emerged as reasonable alternatives to the conventional petroleum fuels, he added.
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