Sustainable Biotechnology: A step towards Bioeconomy
Sustainable living and development are already a major challenge today. Every day we face environmental risks including depletion of natural resources, pollution, deforestation, e-waste generation, poor air and water quality, ozone layer depletion and more. Unless appropriate action is taken, CO2 emissions from the United States alone are projected to reach 4,807 million tons by 2050, while global CO2 concentration would reach 685 parts per million. That's enough to worry everyone, including business owners and major industry players. We clearly need a solution and we need it fast. Here’s where technology comes into play.
What is Sustainable Biotechnology?
Sustainable technology is a generic term that describes innovations that respect natural resources and promote economic and social development. The aim of these technologies is to drastically reduce environmental and environmental risks and create a sustainable product. Among the wide range of technologies with the potential to achieve the goal of sustainability, biotechnology could occupy an important place, especially in the areas of food production, renewable raw materials and energy, pollution prevention and bioremediation.
Biotechnology is uniquely positioned to replace polluting materials and chemical processes with more sustainable, biological alternatives. These biological processes can be used to efficiently break down waste and produce materials using less water, land and energy than traditional methods. One of the most important areas where biotechnology is changing is in the agricultural sector. Sustainable agricultural biotechnology encompasses a range of practices including integrated pest management, organic farming, crop rotation, crop selection and planting practices that reduce soil erosion.
Which are the key-impact sectors?
The health application segment accounted for the largest share of 48.64% in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 impact, prevalence of diseases, increasing focus on the development of regenerative medicines, and improving healthcare infrastructure. The DNA sequencing technology segment held the second-largest share in 2020 owing to its growing penetration in the development of precision medicines.
The market has paved the way for biotech crops which require fewer pesticide applications and allow crops to be grown with fewer tillages of the land, using farming techniques that improve soil health and water retention. Through biotechnology, the global use of pesticides has been reduced by £790 million. This is the goal of companies such as Kapsera in France, Xtrem Biotech in Spain and Aphea Bio in Belgium.
Plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental problems we are currently facing. Waste from petrochemical plastic production plants, as well as non-biodegradable plastic, is a major concern of the 21st century. Emerging technologies are focused on making plastics sustainable.
The meat industry is largely responsible for methane emissions, animals such as cows and goats are often consumed. The natural digestive processes of these animals produce methane, also known as Enteric Methane Emission (EME). Biotechnology significantly reduces the use of land, water and energy by raising meat without the animal, directly from a small sample of muscle and fat cells. This approach would also reduce the use of antibiotics in meat production because they can be produced under sterile laboratory conditions.
Many natural cosmetics contain herbal ingredients. However, for some of these inputs, the amount extracted from a plant can be quite small compared to the amount of land, water and energy required to produce them.
Other sectors include construction, clothing, detergents, flavourings and cosmetics.
Will sustainable biotechnology keep up with economic growth?
The size of India's bio-economy has increased by 12.3% to $70.2 billion in FY2020. The biggest driver of the sector in terms of GDP share is the Biopharma sub-segment. The pandemic has had a positive impact on the life sciences industry as the government has created a robust biotech environment in the country through the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). The industry has expanded vaccine capacity, expanded Covid-19 testing and looked beyond normal ways to overcome the economic stagnation of Covid-19. The agricultural sector benefits immensely from this biotech industry.
The development of transgenic crops such as rice, chickpeas and corn is one of the success stories of the Indian biotechnology sector. India now has over 4,237 biotech startups, an increase of almost 25% since 2019. India's vision is to have 10,000 biotech startups by 2024 and to become a $150 billion bio-economy by 2025. Government programs like Ayushman Bharat and Make in India have achieved positive results in the biotech sector. The Atal Jai Anusandhan Biotech Mission is carried out by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The purpose of this mission is to address the challenges of maternal and child health, antibiotic resistance, infectious disease vaccines, food and nutrition, and clean technology. Although the Indian government has recognized the potential of the biotech sector, establishing a bio-economy is still a pipeline dream primarily due to high research and development costs, patent rights, lack of public-private partnerships and intellectual property rights.
What does the future look like?
The market has been growing with approx 17.45% CAGR since the past 5 years and is valued at US$ 2.3 Billion in 2021. India now has over 4,237 biotech startups, an increase of almost 25% since 2019. India's vision is to have 10,000 biotech startups by 2024 and to become a $150 billion bio-economy by 2025. With the advent of Biotech incubators to boost research and economic growth and innovations in every sphere of production (plastics, fashion, construction, fuels, etc), the market has been forecasted to become a US$ 8bn market, at an expected CAGR of 27.$% over the next five years.
We believe that the global climate crisis can only be averted with contributions from all sectors through the unified adoption of sustainable biotechnology. The innovations companies are bringing to the table might be capital intensive and misaligned with the objectives of developing countries but the market shows great promise to investors due to its all-pervasive nature and potential to massively expand the current bioeconomy.
Author: Samay Jain & Kayna Arora
Illustration by: Chirag Rawat & Shubhum Kandoi