WWF Reports Finds Industrial Biotechnology Could Reduce CO2 Emissions Between 1-2.5 Billion Tonnes per Year by 2030
Industrial biotechnology has the potential to save the planet between 1 billion and 2.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emissions per year by 2030, compared with a scenario in which no industrial biotechnology applications are available—more than Germany’s total reported emissions in 1990—according to a set of two reports recently published by WWF Denmark.
The reports—one focused on technology, the other on policy—identify four fundamental dimensions of industrial biotechnology: improved efficiency; the substitution of fossil fuels; the substitution of oil-based materials; and the creation of a closed loop system with the potential to eliminate waste.
The question is to what extent industrial biotechnology can transform a fundamentally unsustainable system into a sustainable bio-based economy—or just provide a streak of green in a dirty system.
Some current biotechnology applications reduce emissions but also lead to a high degree of carbon feedback. This is most noticeable when enzymes are used to produce biofuels used to substitute fossil fuels in vehicle engines. Vehicle biofuel can save large quantities of CO2, but it supports a carbon intensive transport system and further strengthens the social, institutional and cultural dependency on such systems. These reductions are valuable and needed in the short term but risk binding us to future emissions if we don’t pursue further transformation of the economic infrastructure.—“Industrial biotechnology”
|Model of a bio-based product flow-chart for biomass feedstocks. Click to enlarge.|
The actual impact of industrial biotechnologies on GHG emissions will largely depend upon the overall socio-economic environment and the policy landscape surrounding the dissemination of these technologies, according to the reports. It is important, the WWF says, that strong public policies and private sector strategies are in place to channel the sector’s growth toward low-carbon paths, while avoiding high-carbon lock-ins that are often attractive due to their potential to deliver short term GHG emission reductions. Such policies should:
- Support existing and new efficiency-enabling solutions to fully capitalize on their short term potential;
- Anticipate and nurture the progression towards large-scale biomaterial and closed loop systems; and
- Ensure that the supply of industrial biotechnology feedstock land is managed according to principles of sustainability.
To realize its potential, the WWF says, industrial biotechnology should pursue strategies such as:
Scoping existing markets to identify areas where higher GHG emission reductions can be achieved with existing or emerging industrial biotechnology applications.
Developing standards and tools, to be deployed systematically across the industry and for all applications, that document the GHG impacts of industrial biotechnology solutions.
Working with customers and suppliers to develop funding instruments for low-carbon solutions.
Pursuing R&D and market investments in bio-based materials following ‘Designed for the Environment’ approaches, which include solutions to ‘close the loop’.
Working with policy makers to develop policies that support the progression towards large scale biomaterial and closed loop systems.
Supporting the development and implementation of public policies that address the risk of unsustainable land use practices being associated with the production of industrial biotechnology feedstock.