For hundreds of years, human beings relied on Mother Nature for all the things they wanted to make themselves more comfortable. Humans wove clothes and fabrics from wool and dyed them with plant colors, build houses and furniture with trees material. But with the onset of half of the twentieth century, the trend changed when organic chemistry introduced techniques to create many of these products by themselves. Plastics replaced wood and metals, and artificial dyes were used for coloring. But then biology started taking revenge on many of these synthetic, petroleum-based consumer goods. The increasing mass of non-degradable synthetics in the earth’s environment made biodegradable products appealing again.
The biotechnology industries then started to explore nature’s richness for the techniques to replace petroleum-based non-degradable synthetics. And this is what ‘white biotechnology‘ is all about.
White biotechnology – also meaning Industrial Biotechnology uses microorganisms and their enzymes to manufacture the goods for industry, such as chemicals, plastics, pharmaceuticals, food, and energy carriers. These renewable raw materials and the waste from forestry and agriculture are used for manufacturing industrial goods. White biotechnology is solely applied to the industry to replace polluting technologies for clean ones.
The technology uses living cells from molds, bacteria, plants, and yeast to synthesize the easily degradable products. It may need less energy and produce fewer by-product wastes. White biotechnology is used for Metabolite production, Waste treatment, Production of biocontrol agents, Bio-based fuel & energy, etc.
Its Activities In Industrial Microbiology and How White Microbiology Works
- Isolation of microorganisms from nature,
- Their screening for product formation,
- Improvement of product yields,
- Maintenance of cultures,
- Mass culture using bioreactors, and
- Recovery of products or services.
The Applications of White Biotechnology
Here are the applications of white biotechnology.
1. Metabolite Production
Microorganisms produce different metabolites during their growth stages by using cheap substrates. Acetone-butanol, Organic acids Alcohol. Antibiotics, Enzymes, and Vitamins can be created.
2. Waste Treatment
Reducing pollution by proper waste treatment is in-fact the best waste treatment is among the major goal of white biotechnology.
3. Production of Biocontrol Agents
Microorganisms are used to control insect pests, pathogens, and weed. The biological agents used for this purpose are called biocontrol agents.
4. Bio-Based Fuel & Energy
Cellulose enzyme technology benefits the conversion of crop residues to ethanol. The techniques also allow reduced CO2 emissions by 90% (compared to oil). Further, it produces greater domestic energy and uses renewable feedstock.
5. Recovery of Metals
Microbes are employed to recover valuable metals from the metals of a low grade for which the conventional metallurgical processes are polluting.
Major Purpose of White Biotechnology
White biotechnology is an important part of environmental sustainability and industrial development. Keeping both in mind, here are some of the key objectives of white biotechnology.
- White biotechnology’s first agenda has been the production of biodegradable plastics with the polyesters of 3-hydroxy acids (PHAs). Many microorganisms naturally synthesize PHA as an energy reserve and carbon source. These compounds work as synthetic thermoplastics and elastomers but are rapidly degraded by bacteria in soil or water. Biotechnology specialists have been working in this sector for over 20 years. Constraint: A major problem of the commercialization of such plastics is its cost- they are five to ten times expensive than petroleum-based polymers. Thus the major part of the research has been focused on reducing their production cost.
- A US company Dupont has successfully manufactured 1,3-propanediol from corn sugar. This corn-based polymer, called Sorona, has improved characteristics and is environmentally friendly. Constraint: As usual, the cost of production is high, and market demand for such products is low.
- “Paper” is another product that could benefit from white biotechnology. Much of the pollution in the paper-making process is caused by ‘crafting’- removing lignin from the wood substrate. Now, much research is making an effort to reduce the modifying lignin structure or its amount in trees. Constraint: Although the papermaking industry could have made a good margin by reducing production costs, no major projects in this mission have yet been undertaken. There are two major roadblocks in transgenic wood commercialization. Altered lignin needs to adopt in its actual field performance rather than laboratory, and secondly public needs to accept the use of transgenic organisms and their product.
- White biotechnology is concerned with the production of energy from renewable biomasses such as starch from potatoes, sugar cane, wheat, and corn is used to make ethanol as a substitute for gasoline. Note: Henry Ford’s first car ran on ethanol.
In Brazil, some motor fuel sold is pure ethanol that is derived from sugar cane, and the rest has a twenty percent ethanol content in it. 10% of all motor fuel sold in the USA is a mixture of 90% petrol and 10% ethanol. The report says that the USA alone has 58 fuel plants producing almost 6 billion liters of ethanol per year.
Future of White Biotechnology
White biotechnology can someday replace a major portion of natural oil with all micro-organisms products. The non-degradable paper and plastic use can be minimized to a great extent and replaced by the bio-degradable one. And who knows, every department store could sell clothes that can be made from plants by-products?
White biotechnology has large benefits- both economically and environmentally. But that needs a wide range of applications. The increasingly growing concerns about the nature and the possibility of cheaper fuel in the future make white biotechnology a serious contender.