WHAT IS THE CHALLENGE?
The modern industrial society has become increasingly dependent on fossil feedstocks as the raw material not only for fuel but also for a vast range of chemicals that have integrated into innumerable products like plastics, detergents, printing inks, coatings, paints, adhesives, building protection agents, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, etc. It is expected that the low-priced and easily available mineral oil will sooner or later run short entailing a rise in price of fuel and chemicals. However, a more serious and near term concern which discourages the dependence on the petroleum based products is that many of them are slowly or not degraded at all when released into the environment, leading to problems in waste management. Furthermore, the chemical processes used for their manufacture release toxic waste and by-products that are ecologically harmful leading to enhanced greenhouse effect and health problems. There is a growing appreciation that resource management needs to be improved nationally, regionally and globally, and the waste and pollution needs to be reduced. Surplus natural renewable resources have great potential to be tapped as a source for biodegradable products that could replace many of the existing hazardous chemicals, but this implies a need for a radical technology shift to be adopted by the chemical industry.
HOW CAN THE PROGRAMME CONTRIBUTE TO A SOLUTION?
Greenchem aims to initiate a paradigm shift in the chemical industry from being based on fossil resources to renewable raw materials for manufacture of “green” chemicals. Biotechnology has a promising role in this respect due to the natural ability of the living cells and their enzymes to transform the natural resources. Being extremely selective and thereby leading to fewer by-products, the biocatalysts offer cleaner products and processes in contrast to their non-biological counterparts. Associated with the greater cleanliness come the economic and environmental benefits. The programme will work towards establishing processes based on modern biotechnology for production of the chemicals of interest to Swedish and international industry from renewable resources. By so doing, a link will be established between the primary producers of biomass and the end-user industry. The target chemicals for the programme have been chosen based on their wide-ranging applications. These include biosurfactants for use in pharmaceutical preparations, personal care products, concrete and other products; wax esters for surface coatings; and epoxides for surface coatings and starting material for different products. Selection of suitably robust biocatalysts will be a critical issue for the respective processes. Identification and quantification of the environmental benefits will be performed in order to demonstrate the viability of the processes and products to the industry. Moreover, a technological road map will be provided for facilitating introduction of “green” technologies in the chemical industry.
WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM THE RESULTS?
The industries dealing with production and use of chemicals will be the major beneficiaries from the results, but also the producers of renewable raw materials will benefit by finding an interesting outlet for their products. Considering the potentially positive effects on the environment and health, society at large will also gain in the long run. The knowledge generated within the programme will be useful for the scientific community as well as for policy makers.