Eco-efficiency analysis - Is industrial biotechnology always better?

The OECD has identified in 21 case studies that the use of industrial biotechnology in the chemical industry reduces operating costs and environmental impacts. Thus, the analyzed processes and products have a positive ecological balance.

But not always are currently possible biotechnological methods and products profitable from an environmental perspective. Analysis of BASF AG in 2003 and 2004 for the production of astaxanthin and Indigo have shown that in these cases the established chemical production methods have a better eco-efficiency.

This shows clearly that not every bio-based, bioengineered product automatically has a positive ecological balance. This balance can be created using specially developed methods, so-called eco-efficiency analysis. They serve as "[...] instrument[s] for the holistic, comparative assessment of products and processes. The eco-efficiency analysis examines the life cycle of a product/process from cradle to grave, i.e. from raw material extraction through production and use to disposal of the product. [...] The eco-efficiency analysis helps to make sustainability measurable: The method is a comprehensive, modern, strategic tool for decision makers and customers. It considers both environmental effects as well as economic factors, ensuring a balance between ecology and economy." [1]

Not only CO2 emissions in the manufacturing process and biodegradability of a product are decisive aspects, but also other environmental parameters must be considered:

Impact category(Environmentally) relevant parameters
Resource demands, cumulative energy demandfossil, nuclear, renewable and hydropower
Greenhouse effect CO2, CH4, N2O, CF4
AcidificationNOx, SO2, H2S, HCl, HF, NH3
Eutrophication (terrestrial) NOx, NH3
Eutrophication (aquatic) Ptot, COD, Ntot, NH4 +, NO3-
Destruction of the ozone layer benzene, CH4, NMVOC, VOCs, formaldehyde
Human toxicity benzo(a)pyrene, lead, cadmium, SO2, dust
Ecotoxicity NH3, FH, SO2, SH2, NOx, NH4 +, AOX, chloride, hydrocarbons

Abbreviations: COD = chemical oxygen demand, a unit of the amount of oxygen required to oxidize all organic substances contained in the water; NMVOC = non-methane volatile compounds, VOC = volatile organic compounds, AOX = adsorbable organic halogens, mainly used to evaluate water and sewage sludge. [2]


[1] BASF - The Chemical Company: Was ist Ökoeffizienz-Analyse? URL: (Accessed: 2013-01-29)
[2] Hoppenheidt et al, 2004. Entlastungseffekte für die Umwelt durch Substitution konventioneller chemisch-technischer Prozesse und Produkte durch biotechnische Verfahren - vergleichende Analyse. Bayerisches Institut für Angewandte Umweltforschung und -technik - BIfA GmbH (Ed.), Augsburg, 2004, p. 8