If biotechnology was a color spectrum, where different colors correspond to different application areas (i.e. medicine, agriculture, etc.), then what is white biotechnology? White biotechnology is the industrial production and processing of chemicals, materials, and energy using micro-organisms like bacteria and yeast. In a world where oil contributes an estimated 11.8 trillion tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, white biotechnology represents a more sustainable alternative to petroleum-based chemical production: one that not only decreases society’s reliance on fossil fuels but also uses less energy, generates less waste, and creates less environmentally damaging products. From this perspective, white biotechnology is a key component of the circular economy.
White biotechnology innovations
With improvements in biotechnology tools and processes comes the ability to produce everything from commodity chemicals to high-performance materials through white biotechnology. Thanks to such improvements, the range of molecules and compounds that can be biomanufactured has been expanded into an incredibly diverse set of molecules with use cases in everything from lubricants to leather, textiles to packaging, adhesives to additives, etc. This list increases with every technological advancement developed by established and emerging players – from startups like Visolis and Industrial Microbes to major chemical companies like BASF and LG Chem.
This begs the question – what are the technology trends reshaping white biotechnology’ future? In IDTechEx’s comprehensive report “White Biotechnology 2024-2034“, numerous technology innovations are critically assessed to analyze the future of white biotechnology. Some of these trends include:
Non-model organisms: there are many reasons that model organisms, such as E.coli and S.cerevisiae, have been utilized extensively in white biotechnology – not least among them their extensive research history, collective knowledge base, and available genetic engineering tools. But even with the tools of synthetic biology, expanded by the likes of Gingko Bioworks, engineered model organismssometimes face inherent limitations in white biotechnology applications, and these limitations are pushing biotechnology players to explore non-model organisms. These may be micro-organisms that already produce the target molecule but need further engineering to produce that molecule at higher yield. Or micro-organisms that naturally metabolize feedstock like CO2. Regardless, advances in synthetic biology and bioinformatics are enabling the exploration of non-model organisms in white biotechnology.
Cell-free systems: rather than discussing novel micro-organisms for white biotechnology, what about removing living cells from the process entirely? That is the conceit behind cell-free systems, which involves the removal of certain cell components from bacteria, yeasts, etc. to then be applied to reactions taking place outside a living cell. Developers of cell-free systems state that they bypass the typical constraints of using and manipulating living cells for industrial processes, like the difficulties of engineering an entire cell. With startups like Solugen and Enginzyme raising millions to commercialize cell-free systems for white biotechnology, this trend may help expand white biotechnology’s capabilities into other target molecules and, thus, into new applications.
Alternative feedstocks: aside from innovations in the biocatalysts used for white biotechnology, many are looking at alternative feedstocks for industrial biomanufacturing processes. Rather than using classic food-crop sugars (i.e. corn, sugarcane) as input feedstock, alternative (or 2nd generation) feedstocks allow for the use of waste streams and other abundant resources, like carbon dioxide and methane. Not only do alternative feedstocks ensure that white biotechnology is not competing with agriculture for input materials, but they also offer ways to increase the sustainability of a white biotechnology process. For example, using greenhouse gases as feedstock could make a biomanufacturing process carbon-neutral. Additionally, using waste streams, like agricultural residues, could reduce the cost of biomanufacturing. Regardless of the drivers, numerous players like LanzaTech, Evonik, and Newlight Technologies (among many others), are researching and commercializing white biotechnology processes utilizing alternative feedstocks, and this will be a very important space to monitor in the future.
Moving white biotechnology forward
The technical innovations of white biotechnology are just one component of market dynamics shaping industrial biomanufacturing. Numerous factors must be evaluated to determine the economic viability of certain white biotechnology projects, from internal factors such as process yield, ease of scale, and biocatalyst choice to external factors such as government regulations, crude oil prices, and the green premium. The white biotechnology market needs to be analyzed from these perspectives to offer an understanding of the industry’s future trajectory and its role in advancing the global bioeconomy.
IDTechEx white biotechnology market forecast
IDTechEx’s new “White Biotechnology 2024-2034” report carefully explores the white biotechnology landscape, including evaluations of over 35 biomanufactured molecules, looking at critical aspects like their technology readiness level, key technical challenges, commercial players, applications, and more.
IDTechEx also provides market forecasts that carefully segments the market by ten major biomanufactured molecules based on global production capacity, which are extrapolated in the 10-year forecast to explore each segments’ current capacity and potential for growth. Additionally, IDTechEx provides a comprehensive examination of critical application areas, discussion of technology trends, and in-depth market and economic analysis.
For further information on this market, including discussion on over 100 players, analysis of numerous biomanufacturing processes, and granular 10-year market forecasts, see the market report “White Biotechnology 2024-2034“.
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