Biotechnology has been defined as the integrated use of physical, biological as well as engineering sciences to achieve technological application of biological systems. This means that biotechnology has to exclude fundamental research and that it has to be relevant to industry.
Most biotechnological processes make use of microorganisms, such as filamentous fungi, yeasts and bacteria, but algae, vascular plants and even animal tissue can also be utilized. For many years, biotechnological processes have been used in the production of beverages and food, such as beer, wine, cheese and bread. However, biotechnology has a number of other important uses and in this article we will discuss all the important ones.
One of the most basic applications of industrial biotechnology is the production of alcohol. For example, beer is made from water, a starch source, such as brewer’s yeast, barley and a flavoring such as hops. The starch in the barley needs to be converted to sugar by enzymes and then fermented. Microbes and enzymes are two common tools which are used in industrial biotechnology.
The first generation of biofuel is produced by fermenting plant-derived sugars to ethanol. This is done by using a similar process to that which is used in wine and beer production, or by converting plant-oils to biodiesel. It requires crops, such as sugar beet, wheat, corn or sugar cane. Biofuels, such as biodiesel and bio-ethanol, are blended with diesel and petrol in order to meet legislation on greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon impact of the fuels can be reduced by blending bio-fuels into road transport fuel.
Products in our households
Such products are either made using enzymes taken from cells, or come directly from cells. Cells are biofactories with production lines of enzymes assembling our desired product. In order to produce what we want, we can either use just specific workers or the whole factory (whole cells or isolated enzymes). Cells and enzymes can also be biotech products themselves, in addition to using them as tools to make biotech products. For example, non-soya veggie burgers and probiotic yogurts contain microbial cells, while enzymes are used in washing detergents, cosmetics, food processing and much more.
Bioplastics, which are made from biopolymers, are already utilized in mobile phone cases, plastic food packaging, personal care packaging for products such as conditioners and shampoos, pens and sunglasses.
Fabrics are used for many years and the fermentation vat is likely the oldest known dyeing process. Polyester is used to make blankets, clothing, carpets as well as other fabrics, which is a synthetic polymer fiber produced from fossil fuel. A lot of biochemicals are also used in the production of dyes, polyester, nylon and tanning agents, all of which are vital materials in the production of textiles for clothing, carpets and upholstery.
The heat and power in our homes
Gas from biorefineries can be combusted in order to produce power and heat. Methane can be directly injected in the gas grid in order to produce electricity and heat homes. A biorefinery will produce enough heat and energy to over its own parasitic load and also be a exporter. In addition, energy can also be produced from algae as a biofuel. They use photosynthesis in order to grow oil rich algae in controlled conditions.
Agricultural chemicals, global reliance on fossil fuels and fluctuating oil prices have ignited interest in farming algae. Algae can be grown in areas which are not suitable for agriculture. For this reason, they do not impact on food crops. Today, CPI works on projects in order to allow the biomass from the algae to be recycled and then used to produce a wide variety of products, such as biogas, biopharmaceuticals, bioethanol and compost for crop production.