Industrial Biotechnology and Biomass Industries

What is industrial biotechnology?

Industrial biotechnology is a set of practices that use living cells (such as bacteria, yeast, algae) or component of cells like enzymes, to generate industrial products and processes

Industrial biotechnology can be used to:

  • Create new products, such as plant-based biodegradable plastics;
  • Replace petroleum-based feedstocks by processing biomass in biorefineries to produce electricity, transport fuels or chemicals;
  • Modify and develop new industrial processes, such as by using enzymes to reduce the amount of harsh chemicals used the textile or pulp and paper industries;
  • Reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing; for example by treating industrial wastewater onsite using biological mediums such as microbes;

Industrial biotechnology in Australia

Australia has a broad capability in industrial biotechnology with both research and commercial activities across several key areas including:

  • Biomaterials: for example, Australian company Plantic produces biopolymers and plastics based on corn;
  • Biofuels (bioethanol and biodiesel): there are several first-generation biofuel plants in Australia, as well as research into second generation fuel production (see the Australian Renewable Energy Agency website.)
  • Chemicals and enzymes: for example, Languard is an enzyme-based product that can rapidly degrade pesticide residues, and was jointly developed by CSIRO and a commercial partner.

Biomass based industries

Biotechnology is a key technology for the emerging biomass based industries. These industries use biomass (for example crop or forestry residues or organic waste) to manufacture commodities such as fuels, plastics or chemicals.

The biomass industries are emerging as a response to the declining global supply of cheap, easily extracted petroleum. There is also more public pressure for cleaner industrial practices, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and transition to renewable raw materials.

Internationally, significant research funding and policy support has been recently devoted to the development of biomass based industries.

To develop a better understanding of this emerging sector in Australia, the Department of Industry commissioned two scoping studies on the feasibility for establishing Australian biomass-based industries using tropical and temperate feedstocks.

The studies reported that biomass based industries could create export revenues, reduce Australia’s dependency on petroleum imports and revitalise existing industries (sugar, forestry, pulp and paper and chemicals). The studies also recognised several challenges in establishing biomass value chains. The processes involved are technically challenging, and the facilities are expensive to set up. Moreover, there are existing markets for both sugar and forest products (such as woodchips).

Biomass based industries are an important part of the bioeconomy, which refers to sustainable production, collection and conversion of biomass, for a range of food, feed, fibre, energy, chemical, material and health products.

Further information

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