How agriculture benefits from industrial biotechnology - Renewable resources in industrial processes

By 2050, the world population will grow from today seven billion to nine billion people. [1] This development puts pressure on today's agriculture regarding the short resources: The demand for agricultural crop land, pesticides, energy, fertilizer, food and feed - and generally for natural resources - will increase enormously.

The solution to these challenges are innovations, like those industrial biotechnology has to offer, including e.g. the almost complete material and energy processing of renewable raw materials in biorefineries to deal with the growing demand for industrial products. Similarly, the production of second and third-generation biofuels can oppose the global hunger for energy. Furthermore, more resistant plants and yielding varieties can be produced using industrial biotechnology, as well as totally new, environmentally friendly and more efficient pesticides.

Facts & Figures - Biotechnological conversion of agricultural resources

The proportion of renewable raw materials in the chemical industry since 2008 amounts to approximately 13 percent. Currently, this corresponds to 2.7 million tons per year (March 2012). [2]

Biomass - material utilization: Currently approximately 400,000 hectares of agricultural land are used in Germany for the cultivation of industrial crops, such as corn, rape, sunflower and sugar beet. For comparison, the total arable land of Germany amounts to 11.9 million hectares, meaning that the area for industrial crop production is only about 3.4 percent of Germany's arable land. [3]

Biomass - Energy Recovery: Approximately 2.1 million hectares of agricultural land are used for the cultivation of energy crops, such as various woods (beech, oak, spruce, etc.) as well as miscanthus or cup-plant. 

You can find data on bio-lubricants, biofuels and biopolymers in the menu item "economy".

Background: Bioenergy

Bioenergy from biomass is currently being expanded greatly. Already today, about 70 percent of renewable energy derives from biomass [4], although the national biomass resources are by far not fully developed. One of the greatest advantages of bioenergy include:

  • it is easy to store and can be used flexibly.
  • it is available at all times (as opposed to, for example, wind or solar energy).
  • it burns carbon-neutral, meaning that only those greenhouse gases are released in the use of bioenergy that were previously bound by the biomass.

Background: Biotechnologically produced feed additives

Feed additives for livestock breeding have become indispensable in agriculture. Thus, biotechnologically produced vitamins or enzymes, such as L-lysine, help to produce more animal proteins by using less resources and less environmental impact than by chemical production. Organic acids are used, however, to preserve for example grain. Matching color gradations in the pigmentation of egg yolks, salmon or shellfish can be achieved by the addition of carotenoids.

The biotechnological production of feed additives is considered as promising by big industries . This shows, for example, Evonik’s investment in Biolys, a plant in Brazil. The plant will be built at the Cargill site and shall be launched in 2014.

Modern technologies such as industrial biotechnology, pave the way to a more efficient, more economical and at the same time sustainable agriculture.

Background: Biogenic pesticides

In agriculture, there is a great need for pesticides to ensure high yields and high resistance to pests. Currently, most pesticides are produced based on fossil fuels, but many resistances to pests and weeds already exist. Therefore, new mechanisms are needed, not only to make pesticides more biodegradable or provide them with specific activities. This trend is proven to has future by the recent activities of Bayer CropScience, which want to open up a new generation of pesticides using biotechnological methods.

 

Sources:
[1] UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund: Das Recht auf Entscheidung - Weltbevölkerungsbericht 2012 Kurzfassung. Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (ed. German version), Hannover 2012, p 9. URL: http://www.weltbevoelkerung.de/news/news-ansicht/display/weltbevoelkerung-waechst-bis-2050-staerker-als-angenommen-auf-93-milliardendsw-menschen-in-en-1.html (Access: 2013-01-23)
[2] Deutscher Bundestag: Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten René Röspel, Dr. Ernst Dieter Rossmann, Willi Brase, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion der SPD – Drucksache 17/8633 – Stand und Perspektiven der Weißen Biotechnologie. Print 17/8891 of 7 March 2012.p 2. URL: http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/17/088/1708891.pdf (Access: 2012-11-20)
[3] Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV): Zahl der Woche - 400.000 Hektar der Ackerfläche in Deutschland werden für den Anbau von Industriepflanzen genutzt. Press Release No. 346 of 15.11.12. URL: http://www.bmelv.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/2012/346-Zahl-der-Woche.html (Access: 2012-11-21)
[4] Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV):
Aktionsprogramm „Energie für  morgen – Chancen für  ländliche Räume“. BMELV (ed.), Berlin 2009, P 6. URL: http://www.bmelv.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/Broschueren/AktionsprogrammEnergie.pdf?__blob=publicationFile (Access: 2012-11-22)