Oil as a natural resource is becoming scarcer and more expensive and there is a need to look at eco-friendly ways of extracting it, thereby reducing CO2 emissions. White biotechnology offers a solution: scientists are now using microorganisms such as bacteria to generate substances for the production of polymers. The advantage is that these miniature biochemical factories run on renewable resources or agricultural waste converting it into valuable chemicals.
Although they have never been to a university and haven’t earned a doctorate, bacteria are nonetheless talented chemists. During the course of evolution, their biochemical metabolic pathways have been optimized in every detail turning them into tiny natural chemical factories that can produce substances such as alcohol or penicillin, for instance. “The challenge currently facing scientists is how to carefully interweave chemistry and biotechnology,” states Head-New Technologies, CAS Innovation, Bayer MaterialScience, Dr Gesa Behnken.
Fermentation– Mother Natzure's Biotech–Miniplant
Fermentation is a biochemical process that has long been an established component of the food industry and the pharmaceutical sector. Microorganisms manufacture protein building blocks, amino acids and the insulin vital to diabetics via this process. Bayer HealthCare has been using fermentation for years now to produce blood-clotting Factor VIII for hemophiliacs. In the future, the miniature biological factories will also help replace what is currently the most important fuel for the global economy – oil.
The tiny life forms may soon save large quantities of the primordial black substance in particular in the production of plastic. Scientists are now able to make the bacteria produce large quantities of individual plastic building blocks known as monomers.
Oils, Sugar and Starches for Plastic Production
The advantage of the biotech procedure is that the microorganisms rely on biomass as a base material. “Our goal is to use this method to become more independent of oil as well as to ultimately reduce the CO2 emissions from our production,” says Behnken.
Together with her colleagues, Behnken is seeking to gradually replace material flows that are still based on fossil resources with biogenic procedures. “In the future, we also want to use biological methods to generate substances we need in large quantities,” adds Behnken.
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