For most biotechnological processes, milder temperatures and pressures are feasible. Even when taking into account the indirect production of enzymes or microbes, relatively low process energy and emission-based intensity are present. The big - but with these processes is water concentration. Biomass, biomass byproducts and biotechnological processes generally contain or require vast quantities of water. The current separation, isolation and purification of intermediaries and final products might be energetically less intense but face a large economic burden. Several key separation technologies for bio -based material streams are simply missing on the industrial scale. To continue with the protein example above, isolation and purification of arginine from a protein-containing waste stream requires a cascade of separation steps; including expensive proteases, liquid chromatography and/or ion exchange membranes. While the emission savings potential is clear and valid, the economical and large-scale bioengineering processing equipment are vague or are completely lacking. Vast research and development in the purple field of biotechnology is required to enable the economic construction of biorefineries.
As progress in all fields of biotechnology advance, more products and more streams will become available for processing. In a multistream biorefinery, the main product will remain those based upon fermentable sugars, as these contribute to the vast majority of the biomass feedstock. These production systems will naturally evolve to become more efficient and more economically competitive. Enabling the technical use of the by-products for other useful production lines will further benefit the overall economic and ecological attractiveness. Unlike with a thermal oil cracker, finding the right temperature and catalyst will not suffice in making more streams available for processing. A biorefinery must incorporate new and tailored separation systems. The more useful products that emerge from the input biomass feedstock, the more CO2 savings can be realized. Only when combined in a biorefinery can industrial biotechnological options fully realize their competitiveness against the well-established petrochemical industry. It is not satisfactory to rely on the end-of-oil strategies. In the climate debate, biotechnology already presents many potential advantages; the task will be to create economical advantages as well.
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