Chemistry & biotechnology – the X factor for a better world
Chemistry and biotechnology will play a major role in addressing the challenges of climate change and clean energy, actually they already do. Life Sciences and Materials Sciences specialist DSM has built its 'Vision 2010' strategy on addressing these challenges.
The chemical industry has long been perceived as part of the problem instead of the solution. The 'average' global citizen considers the chemical industry to have only limited relevance to improving society. The time has come for a fundamental perception and paradigm shift, since I firmly believe that chemistry, especially based on its more recent fertile marriage with industrial biotechnology, is well-positioned to get a firm grip on the challenges posed by climate change and the quest for clean energy. Climate change, greenhouse gases and dwindling oil and gas reserves call for a transition to the use of renewable resources. Innovative solutions through a combination of biotechnology and chemistry will lower costs, reduce CO2 emissions and provide for new functionalities.
Don't take only my word for it that the chemical industry will deliver on its promises. Just take a look at the increasing number of innovative breakthroughs that have been launched by our sector. The number of products already on the market is quite impressive, varying from 'green' waterborne resins, energy transmission improving coatings, biopolymers and bio-fuels, to a wide range of polymers and lighter materials to e.g. improve the fuel consumption in automotive and aviation. These are not only examples from DSM, but also from our colleagues. And they only mark the beginning of innovations in this field.
From a technology point of view, we are initiating new developments at the crossroads of life sciences and materials sciences. Currently some 20% of DSM's € 8.8 billion turnover is related to biotechnology and the activities and opportunities in this field are rapidly growing, due to recent technological breakthroughs. In addition, the awareness of the advantages in terms of costs and environmental impact is rapidly increasing. DSM's White Biotechnology program is focused on (biotech tools for) bio-fuels, bio-based chemicals (such as succinic acid and bio-butanol), and bio-polymers. Because we believe in the power of open innovation, in all these areas we co-operate with customers, competitors, research organisations and governments (such as the US Department of Energy). For example, by the end of this year we will open, together with one of our partners, the world's first demonstration plant for the fermentative production of bio-renewable succinic acid, which will be used to produce bio-polymers, but also numerous 'green' derivates. Fermentation processes yield energy savings of 30-40% compared to a typical chemical process, both reducing CO2 emissions and saving on a company's purchasing bill. In the case of succinic acid CO2 is even consumed in the production process!
Innovation through the combination of chemistry and biotechnology will make a marked difference for our future and will not only provide business opportunities, but perhaps more importantly will be an expression of the chemical industry's responsibility in helping to preserve a safe and sound planet for the generations to come.