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Mr Jack Huttner, from Genencor International (Danisco) and Chair of Europabio. - Industrial Biotechnologies, a Catalyser for Eco-innovation in Europe

28/07/2011

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Mr Jack Huttner, from Genencor International (Danisco) and Chair of Europabio (European Association for Bioindustries), emphases the great potential expected of White biotechnologies, to create a “knowledge based sustainable bioeconomy”.

Mr Jack Huttner is Vice President, Commercial & Public Affairs, of Genencor International, a Division of Danisco A/S. He is also Chair of EuropaBio's White Biotechnology Council & a member of its Board of Management.

  • Tell us about Danisco and Genencor, in a few words and key figures

Danisco is one of the world's leading producers of ingredients for food and other consumer products.

The group employs approx. 10,000 employees in more than 40 countries and reported revenue of DKK 20.9 (EUR 2.8) billion in 2005/06. Danisco's broad technology platform and product portfolio include emulsifiers, enzymes, stabilisers, cultures, flavours, sugar and sweeteners such as xylitol and fructose. The majority of these ingredients are produced from natural raw materials.

Genencor International, a division of Danisco A/S, is a leading industrial biotechnology company that develops innovative enzymes and bioproducts to improve the performance and reduce the environmental impact of the cleaning, textiles, fuels and chemicals industries. Danisco acquired Genencor in 2005 to expand its position as a leader in food ingredients and to diversify into growing industrial biotechnology markets. With the acquisition, Danisco becomes the second largest supplier of industrial enzymes in the world.

Danisco in White Biotechnology

  • How far is White Biotechnology a strategic axis for Danisco Genencor?

Genencor has been in the white biotech business since it was founded in 1982, only it was called industrial biotechnology at the time. Since then, through innovation we have delivered products that provide functional benefit and therefore product differentiation. As part of Danisco, we now provide sustainable products to a broader range of customers, since we deliver to the food and feed markets as well. We strongly believe that the industrial applications of biotech will make industrial processes more sustainable and deliver to society a higher standard of living with a reduced environmental impact.

  • In what fields do you see more activities and potential in White Biotech within Danisco Genencor?

As the two companies continue to integrate, we are constantly reviewing areas within Danisco’s food, feed and sugar markets where white biotech could play a role. It is clear that white biotech’s enzymes and bioprocesses have an important role to play in Danisco’s growth areas.

  • Could you give us a few examples of White Biotechnology applications? What are your best success stories in Danisco Genencor?

The company’s biocatalysts (enzymes) are used in applications as diverse as ingredients for laundry detergents, converting starch to sweeteners, producing ethanol, “stonewashing” blue jeans and enhancing the nutritional value of animal feed. Genencor's market opportunities extend to developing and delivering products that address important safety and protection issues facing the world today in the bio-defence, prion decontamination and bioremediation areas.

An exciting area that is gaining a considerable amount of interest is the use of White biotechnology to enable the knowledge based bioeconomy (KBBE). In a KBBE, renewable raw materials would be converted into bioproducts and bioprocesses in integrated biorefineries. An exciting example that is already commercial is the production of bioethanol as a renewable transport fuel which is derived from corn, wheat and other plants. Additional co-products of such a biorefinery are CO2 (used in many applications, from carbonating beverages to flash freezing of foods) and a high quality protein fraction useful for animal feed (coproducts of grains from distilleries).

The demand for more sustainable products and processes will grow in the future, and environmental technologies such as white biotech have a role to play in this area.

  • It seems there is a growing interest in Europe for White Biotechnology; how do you explain that?

 There is a need for sustainable industrial practices in the world and White Biotechnology offers alternative products and services to many existing industries, as stated above. Both bodies concerned about the environment as well as the private sector are realising that White biotech has demonstrated that economic gains and environmental friendliness can go hand in hand (many reports and case studies have confirmed this – see for example "The application of Biotechnology to industrial sustainability", OECD 2001; "White biotech: Gateway to as more sustainable future", EuropaBio 2003).

  • Do you consider “sustainability” as a key driver for the development of White biotechnology? What are the environmental benefits associated with White Biotechnology?

Yes! And let us not forget that sustainable development has three pillars: environmental AND economical AND social development (as some call it: people, planet, profit). The environmental benefits are based on the fact that white biotech uses renewable raw materials as a carbon source, instead of fossil oil, and thereby does not contribute any additional Carbon to the atmosphere, the major contributor to greenhouse effects.

Also, as the OECD has reported, whenever a biocatalyst or a bioprocess replaces a chemical catalyst or a process, energy is saved, waste is reduced, and the raw material is converted more efficiently (OECD 2001)

In the broader perspective of sustainability, the industrial application of biotechnology can help deliver a more sustainable industrial system. That is very important because we desperately need to:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduce hazardous waste streams
  • Reduce biodiversity depletion
  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources
  • Improve product performance and productivity
  • Turn over to future generations a world that can sustain them as well it did us, if not better
  • What is your vision for the future: do you think that White Biotech can be a sort of “green revolution” for several industries including the chemical industry? How fast could this happen?

Progressive farming interests and research institutions have done a lot of work developing the concept of a biobased economy to show how the future of the agricultural sector could contribute to economic development. The biobased economy will use biotechnology to convert renewable raw materials derived from plants and crops into energy and products needed by advanced societies. In the biobased economy, renewable carbon from plants replaces fossil carbon from the earth’s core. And, bioprocesses will replace chemical synthesis.

Using the power of (white) biotechnology, we can convert agricultural raw materials, namely, fibre, lipids (oils), and proteins into the products of advanced economies. We can use biocatalysts and bioprocesses to convert these materials into fuels, chemicals, solvents, monomers and polymers, adhesives and other materials needed by advanced economies. The benefit to rural economies and to energy independence will be increasingly profound. The new bioeconomy will also help developing economies in countries without oil reserves to bypass classical chemical synthesis and its attendant environmental impact.

The benefits of the biobased economy cover all three of the dimensions of sustainable development:   economic, environmental and social. In the economic sphere, the biobased economy will reduce costs through improved production efficiencies. Biobased products will compete with incumbent products made from oil but they will also introduce innovative products that cannot otherwise be made. Finally, the biobased economy will start to free our economy from dependence on fossil fuels with all of the economic benefits that accrue. In the environmental sphere, the OECD and others have reported on the important ecological efficiency gained by switching from chemical synthesis to biosynthesis and bioproducts. Finally, in the social sphere, the biobased economy will improve the economic lot of farmers and reinvigorate rural economies. Developing countries will be able to use their renewable resources to meet their industrial needs as well as take advantage of cleaner bioproducts and bioprocesses for the production of material wealth.

The trend is already there as the reports mentioned before have shown, and it is growing very quickly as an increasing number of industries are realising its benefits.

  • What potential do you see in “waste” transformation and valorisation?

Potentially any carbon biomass source could be used as feedstock for the biobased economy. Most focus today is on harnessing the value of agricultural residues such as corn stover, wheat straw and sugarcane baggasse. Evaluation of other types of biomass streams will be needed, yet such initiatives require government support for making such valorisation projects economically attractive. We are in fact involved in a project supported by the French government to use paper and pulp mill residues for ethanol production.

Genencor is currently participating in a research consortium to develop economic ethanol production from paper pulp through the use of know-how and infrastructure of the French forest products industry. The 1.2 million euro project is sponsored by the French National Research Programme for Bioenergy (PNRB, ANR) and managed by ADEME. Besides Genencor, other partners include: Tembec R&D Kraft, INSA Toulouse’s Laboratory for Biotechnology & Bioprocessing, and the University of Bordeaux’s Pine Institute. At the end of its three-year term, the project’s objective is to deliver a baseline study of the technical and economic results of a small pilot plant installed at a pulp mill with a special focus on waste minimization of the milling process.

Genencor will provide its advanced biomass cellulases and application expertise to optimize the enzymatic hydrolysis of various paper pulp samples provided by Tembec and the Pine Institute. In addition to providing substrate samples, Tembec will also analyze the economics to evaluate the system for commercial deployment by the pulp industry. INSA’s Laboratory for Biotechnology and Bioprocessing will provide fermentation expertise through its Microbiology Engineering Team. The Pine Institute will share its expertise in pulping and handling; and, in lignocellulose analysis and characterization.

This project links us with others in the value chain to integrate several unit operations into a whole system-level design. This is a critical step in the development of advanced biorefineries attached to the paper pulp industry.

  • How can the Industry, the Professional organisations and Policy makers create more synergies to accelerate eco-innovation in White Biotechnologies?

Last year, the European Commission created a structure to address precisely this challenge. The so-called Technology Platform for SUSCHEM (sustainable chemistry) brings together stakeholders (industry, academia, research institutes), to create together a proper policy framework for further EU actions (in the areas of R&D, market, regulation, horizontal issues) towards sustainable chemistry. White biotech is one of the three pillars of such a structure, highlighting its important contribution to the vision.

The White biotech industry, represented under EuropaBio’s White biotechnology Council, recently made the following key recommendations to the European Commission. They are intended to stimulate the development and use of the eco- friendly technologies that ETAP is promoting and that are needed to implement the knowledge based bioeconomy:

  • Establish a coherent European Policy Agenda for Industrial Biotechnology and the Knowledge based bio-economy, and ensure consistency and certainty among current EU policies and strategies involved
  • Stimulate and support innovation in plant science and industrial biotechnology
  • Promote production and use of bio-based products and processes through market incentives to stimulate the commercialisation of bio-based products:
  • Create awareness of Industrial Biotechnology and KBBE potential amongst stakeholders (Industry, Policy makers, Consumers, Investors, etc.).
  • Improve investment in Industrial Biotechnology SME’s

I believe we are at the beginning of realizing our vision of the knowledge-based bioeconomy. And it is through programmes such as ETAP and the Technology platforms that all stakeholders can develop a cohesive policy framework that will benefit European society at large.