Sustainability - The Watchword for Industry

Sustainability was on the minds of many of today’s speakers at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing, an annual conference attracting more than 1200 scientists, business leaders, and government officials that began in full today in Chicago.

John Heissenbuttel of Heissenbuttel Natural Resource Consulting announced a new industry initiative to ensure that advanced biofuels are produced in a sustainable manner. Called the Council for Sustainable Biomass Production, the group is bringing together farmers, biofuel refiners, oil companies, environmental groups, biotechnology companies, government agencies and academics involved in the entire production chain of biofuels. These different groups will establish voluntary industry standards that will ensure cellulosic biomass – dedicated fuel crops, crop residues, purpose-grown wood, and forestry residues – for biofuels are grown and harvested “in a sustainable manner, balancing economic, environmental and social imperatives.” In setting the standards, the group is considering land use, water use, climate change, and socioeconomic impacts, according to Heissenbuttel.

Jacques Beaudry-Losique, program manager with the U.S. Department of Energy Biomass and Biofuels Program, emphasized that it is important for the United States and other countries to maintain stable energy prices as well as stable food and agriculture prices. During today’s lunch plenary session, Beaudry-Losique praised the ability of biotechnology to improve agricultural yields while at the same time lowering chemical and fertilizer requirements. “We can succeed in doing it better in the future with innovation and advances from biotechnology,” he stated. Beaudry-Losique also expressed confidence in the industry’s ability “to apply biotechnology principles to solve our energy challenges.”

Jay Keasling, CEO of the Joint Bioenergy Institute in California, one of the DOE Bioenergy Research Centers, discussed some of the expectations of industrial biotechnology to produce energy and advanced biofuels. “The conversion of sunlight to transportation fuels through plants faces a number of challenges,” he said. “There are a number of advanced biofuels that can be produced; the trick is to engineer an organism to produce them. We are now working toward engineering organisms for scalable production of ethanol and the next generation of biofuels. We are integrating science and technology to transform the U.S. biofuels industry.”

The conference runs through Wednesday April 30 at the Chicago Hilton. The World Congress is the only global conference dedicated solely to the most recent advancements in industrial biotechnology. The 2008 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing is co-organized by the American Chemical Society, the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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