Sustainable Production of Bulk Chemicals by Application of “White Biotechnology”

M.K. Patel, V. Dornburg, B.G. Hermann, L. Shen, L.S. van Overbeek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Abstract Practically all organic chemicals and plastics are nowadays produced from crude oil and natural gas. However, it is possible to produce a wide range of bulk chemicals from renewable resources by application of biotechnology. This paper focuses on White Biotechnology, which makes use of bacteria (or yeasts) or enzymes for the conversion of the fermentable sugar to the target product. It is shown that White Biotechnology offers substantial savings of non-renewable energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for nearly all of the products studied. Under favorable boundary conditions up to two thirds (67%) of the current non-renewable energy use for the production of the selected chemicals can be saved by 2050 if substantial technological progress is made and if the use of lignocellulosic feedstocks is successfully developed. The analysis for Europe (E.U. 25 countries) shows that land requirements related to White Biotechnology chemicals are not likely to become a critical issue in the next few decades, especially considering the large unused and underutilized resources in Eastern Europe. Substantial macroeconomic savings can be achieved under favourable boundary conditions. In principle, natural bacteria and enzymes can be used for White Biotechnology but, according to many experts in the fields, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) will be necessary in order to achieve the high yields, concentrations and productivities that are required to reach economic viability. Safe containment and inactivation of GMOs after release is very important because not all possible implications caused by the interaction of recombinant genes with other populations can be foreseen. If adequate precautionary measures are taken, the risks related to the use of genetically modified organisms in White Biotechnology are manageable. We conclude that the core requirements to be fulfilled in order to make clear steps towards a bio-based chemical industry are substantial technological progress in the bioprocess step and in downstream processing, high prices for fossil fuels and low prices for fermentable sugar. We strongly recommend to develop an integrated White Biotechnology strategy taking into account these four core requirements and other important accompanying activities
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2022-2026
JournalChinese Journal of Biotechnology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2008


Dive into the research topics of 'Sustainable Production of Bulk Chemicals by Application of “White Biotechnology”'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this