Earth Day 2009: Ten Ways Biotechnology is Helping to Save the Planet

Farmer Gene

In recognition of Earth Day, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) we are encouraging people to think beyond the usual ways we can help save the Earth by highlighting ten ways biotechnology is contributing to a more environmentally sustainable world.     

Biotech breakthroughs help reduce air emissions and water pollution while enabling the development of sustainable, Earth-friendly products. 

“Earth Day is a day to appreciate the beauty and health of our planet and recognize the critical role each of us must play to sustain it,” said BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood.  “I am proud to recognize and celebrate the innovative products and technologies made by the men and women of the biotechnology community that are helping to increase the environmental sustainability of our planet for generations to come.”

Developments in Food and Agriculture

Agricultural biotechnology allows farmers to grow more food on existing farmland while reducing water and fuel consumption.  New developments allow farmers to address the challenges of producing food in less-than-adequate growing conditions with drought and flood-resistant crops.  In fact, growing biotech crops can actually help enhance air, water and soil quality and overall sustainability.  Agricultural biotechnology allows farmers to use less pesticide on their crops and helps reduce soil tillage, fossil fuel use, and runoff from farmers’ fields. 

“The cultivation of food and crops affects everyone on the planet; not just by bringing food to their plates, but also ensuring that we’re doing it in the most environmentally friendly way possible to encourage the best use of our limited resources,” said Sharon Bomer, executive vice president, Food and Agriculture Section, BIO.  “Through farming practices like no-till agriculture and crops that can thrive even on marginal land, biotechnology is helping to feed and fuel the world in a much more sustainable manner.” 

Industrial and Environmental Biotechnology

New industrial and environmental biotechnology advances are helping to make manufacturing processes cleaner and more efficient by reducing toxic chemical pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.  Additionally, renewable biofuels from algae and other cellulosic materials decrease greenhouse gases while reducing our dependence on oil.  Bioplastic is another product that is available today and can substitute for petroleum-based plastics, replacing waste destined for a landfill with biodegradable, compostable consumer products.   

“People already know they can recycle things like plastic and that companies can take action to clean up their pollution,” stated Brent Erickson, executive vice president, Industrial and Environmental Section, BIO.  “What biotechnology has enabled us to do is eliminate toxic pollutants and petroleum-based products before they ever make it into our atmosphere, streams or landfills.”

Ten Ways Biotech is Helping to Save the Planet

  • Cellulosic biofuel, made from cellulose in wood, grasses, or the non-edible parts of plants- such as cornstalks- can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 85 percent compared to gasoline.  (Biotechnology Industry Organization. http://www.bio.org/ind/.)
  • Biotech is creating biodegradable plastics made from renewable sources.  These plastics are versatile and help us reduce our use of petrochemicals. (Barnett, Ron. “Biodegradable plastic made from plants, not oil, is emerging.” USA Today, Dec. 26, 2008.)
  • If all plastics were made from biobased polylactic acid, oil consumption would decrease by 90–145 million barrels per year—or about as much oil as the United States consumes in one week (Biotechnology Industry Organization. “New Biotech Tools for a Cleaner Environment.” http://www.bio.org/ind/pubs/cleaner2004/CleanerReport.pdf.)
  • Biofuel from cellulose generates eight to 10 times as much net energy as is required for its production. (Biotechnology Industry Organization. “New Biotech Tools for a Cleaner Environment.” http://www.bio.org/ind/pubs/cleaner2004/CleanerReport.pdf.)
  • Algae does not compete with food production and can be transformed into a variety of renewable fuels, including biodiesel, cooking oil and jet fuel.  (Biotechnology Industry Organization. “Biofuels: The Promise of Algae.” http://www.bio.org/ind/background/algae2009.pdf.)
  • Biotech is developing drought-resistant crops, enabling agricultural production to withstand adverse growing conditions. Researchers recently tested cutting-edge biotech plants by subjecting them to drought conditions of 70% less water than normal. They survived with almost no loss in yield. (Council for Biotechnology Information. “The Search for ‘More Crop Per Drop.’” http://www.whybiotech.com/resources/factsheets_morecropperdrop.asp.)
  • Pest-resistant biotech crops have reduced global pesticide applications by 630 million pounds.  (Biotechnology Industry Organization. http://www.bio.org/foodag/.)
  • Biotech crops can be grown using no-till farming, which increases soil retention of carbon two or three times that of standard farming practices, causing less emissions of the harmful greenhouse gas. (Biotechnology Industry Organization. http://www.bio.org/foodag/.)
  • By reducing the need for energy intensive tilling, biotech crops have decreased fuel consumption on farms by 551 million gallons. (Biotechnology Industry Organization. http://www.bio.org/foodag/, PG Economics Ltd, http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/.)
  • Processing just 30 percent of U.S. corn stover into biofuels would reduce net U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 90 to 150 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, enough to offset the CO2 emissions of 10 typical coal-fired power plants. (Biotechnology Industry Organization. “Achieving Sustainable Production of Agriculture Biomass for Biorefinery Feedstock.”  http://www.bio.org/ind/biofuel/SustainableBiomassReport.pdf.) 

All of these technologies allow for hope in the uphill battle to protect our environment.  With biotechnology, we can build a greener, cleaner, and more responsible future.  To learn more, please visit www.whatcanbiotechdoforyou.com.

 

 

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