Biotechnology as a Tool for Sustainability

A Cross-Industry Approach

yet2 provides Open Innovation services and technology scouting across a range of industries.  As a trusted partner, yet2 is often the first to hear of new trends and needs from our clients, and we strive to provide the best insights we can to guide their innovation journey.  Contact us if you are interested in learning more about the trends and opportunities in your sector.

Biotechnology harnesses biomolecular processes to improve our lives and the health of the environment. It can span many capabilities, including advances in the medical, environmental, agricultural, and renewable fuels.

Urged by increasing consumer interest in healthier and more sustainable solutions, industry is looking to innovations in biotechnology for cost-effective solutions. yet2 has worked with clients to identify opportunities in biotechnology in the following areas:

Use of fermentation technology to produce raw ingredients

Advances in biotechnology and fermentation processes hold many promises for increasing sustainability while cutting costs at volume. The predominant technology involves converting sugar sources into valuable ingredients using biological vehicles such as algae, yeast, or bacteria. The cost advantages at this stage of development appear to be significant for valuable and expensive molecules such as fragrances and rare beauty ingredients. However, increasing sugar cane production is not sustainable for the environment. Initial efforts to increase sustainability of the fermentation process use photosynthetic algae that utilize sunlight to convert CO2 into oils and other raw ingredients. However, this process has its own issues – specifically loss of yield at very large scales, contamination, and the cost of energy and nutrient sources. Other processes convert greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane into raw ingredients, allowing companies to capture waste gases from manufacturing to convert into useful ingredients. Although conceptually promising – using greenhouse gases to produce ingredients, save resources and cut costs of raw material – the companies using this technology are in the pilot stage and have yet to show cost savings after initial investment in the technology.

Packaging – innovations to decrease waste

Advances in various aspect of packaging can lead to reduced waste from packaging material as well as unused consumer goods. For example, packaging with sensors can track quality of the product as it moves from manufacturing site to store shelves, and even pinpoint disruption in the chain that leads to spoilage or contamination. In addition, new materials used in packaging may have improved capabilities such as resistance to penetration by moisture and protection from UV light and contaminants such as bacteria and mold. Advance modeling systems can help improve the packaging structure, leading to less material used in the actual package and cutting down on both packaging costs and waste material generated. Some companies are targeting technology that would reduce the amount of waste left in the packaging while others are turning to organic matter for packaging instead of plastics; this would lead to decomposition of packaging material instead of plastics filling our landfills. Improvements in technology are still needed in order to ensure safe delivery of products.

Creative, alternative sources of material

Many emerging companies are finding useful ways to reuse waste material, such as using beer waste to make batteries, and replacing environmentally costly palm oil with bug, algae or biosynthetic oil equivalents. In conjunction with consumer interest in sustainability, consumers are also interested in “healthier” products and alternative sources of protein – leading to the push for replacing animal protein with bug or plant-based protein and cutting down on carbon footprint of meat production.

With additional research, these innovative technologies would allow large industries to move towards a more sustainable future. Biotechnology is a fast-moving space with many opportunities for partnership.  The current stage of innovation and growth is a key moment to become involved; the direction of development can be shaped by specific needs of industry. yet2 continues to monitor the space for breakthroughs and can assist in identifying and assessing best partners in the arena.

Check out our active projects to see yet2’s current TechNeeds and TechPaks.