"Biologizing" of the industry

For several decades biotechnological methods are increasingly used in industrial processes. Biotechnology is considered for many economic sectors as a driver of innovations that can make processes more cost effective and/or sustainable and opens the possibility for completely new products. This is true not only for the chemical industry, but also for many other industries such as the food and feed industry, textile manufacturers, to an increasing extent also for the automotive and aerospace industry, sports and leisure industry, color and plastics manufacturers, etc. the possible application areas of biotechnological methods are (almost) unlimited.


The benefits of biotechnological methods - the "Green Economy"

  • reduced dependence on fossil fuels (variable/unstable factors of fossil fuels are: quantity, price, political situations)
  • more complex products and pure enantiomers, e.g. pure left- or pure dextrorotatory lactic acid in order to prepare polymers with desired properties
  • no or reduced contamination of the final product and no or less expensive separation procedures
  • shorter transport distances, independence from refineries
  • environmentally friendly production (lower pressure, lower temperature, aqueous environment), security of plants
  • lower energy consumption
  • usually biodegradable products, fewer by-products and less waste (production-integrated environmental protection), advantageous disposal
  • high social acceptance
  • sustainable CO2-economy

The companies face increasing challenges in economic, environmental and political factors, that increase the difficulties in maintaining the economic production.

In response, industrial biotechnology is used. It is an important element for a sustainable, future-compatible chemical industry which is also described by the umbrella term "green economy". The aim is to use innovative products and processes to strengthen the economy, increase the quality of life and protect the environment.

Facts and Figures

Turnover of biotechnologically produced products:

  • Global turnover of products of industrial biotechnology amounted to 125 billion euros in 2010, representing a ten percent share of the total turnover of the chemical industry. [1]
  • In Germany, sales of products of industrial biotechnology totaled 143 million euros in 2010 and rose to 177.5 million euros in 2011. For comparison: the entire biotechnological industry (including the "red" biotechnology) generated in Germany a turnover of 2.4 billion euros in 2010 and 2.6 billion euros in 2011. [2]

Although in Germany the products of industrial biotechnology still maintain only a small proportion of the total turnover of the biotechnological industry (seven percent), the turnover increased from 2010 to 2011 by 24 percent. In addition, it should be considered that especially large industries often cannot report separate data about the turnover of biotechnologically produced products. But especially those turnovers, for example from production and sale of detergent enzymes, acids or vitamins, result in high amounts that have to be added to the above mentioned information.

For 2017, it is estimated that in the EU alone 340 billion euros will be generated in the chemical industry with biobased products, which corresponds to 15.4 percent of its total turnover. [3]

Investment in research and development:

  • The German economy increased its investment in research and development (R&D) from 33.4 billion euros in 2000 to 46.9 billion euros in 2010. Recent data show a further increase in 2011 to around 49.3 billion euros. [4]
  • Thereof companies invested in 2010 a total of one billion euros in the biotechnology area (including health/medicine, "red" biotechnology). 2011, these investments have fallen to 975 million euros. [2]
  • The R&D investment of the German economy in the field of industrial biotechnology amounted to 59 million euros in 2010. Here was also recorded a decrease to 46 million euros in 2011. [2]

Although in 2011 the R&D investments of the overall German economy even increased compared to the year before, the biotechnological industry has experienced a decline of 2.5 percent in the same period. (Especially the sectors automotive, mechanical and electrical engineering increased.) Compared to total business R&D investment, the R&D investment in the biotechnological sector is generally at the very low level of two percent, in industrial biotechnology (as part of biotechnology) only at even 0.1 percent of the total investment.

Possible reasons for the low propensity to invest in the research and development of biotechnological processes and products - in contrast to turnover growth in double digits - can be found under the heading "Industrial Biotechnology and politics".

[1] Kutter, Susanne: Der Bioingenieur. In: WirtschaftsWoche 22 (30 May 2011), pp. 86-89. URL: www.mig-fonds.de/uploads/media/WiWo_22_30052011.pdf (Access: 2012-11-13)
[2] biotechnologie.de: Die deutsche Biotechnologie-Branche 2012. biotechnologie.de, BIOCOM AG (eds.), Berlin 2012, pp. 16-17. URL: www.biotechnologie.de/BIO/Redaktion/PDF/de/umfrage/2012-umfrage (Access: 2013-05-21)
[3] Ernst & Young, EuropaBio: What Europe has to offer biotechnology companies - Unraveling the tax, financial and regulatory framework. April 2012, p 17. URL: www.europabio.org/sites/default/files/europabio_-_ernst_young_report___what_europe_has_to_offer_biotechnology _companies.pdf
[4] Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft: Statistik & Analysen. URL: www.stifterverband.info/statistik_und_analysen/index.html (Access: 2012-11-13)