Industrial biotechnology has come of age. That was a popular refrain heard in Orlando, Fla., last week during the inaugural World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing.
The conference, organized by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, American Chemical Society, and National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, linked some 500 scientists, business executives, and nonprofit advocates in a forum where they could explore the developing trends and challenges to building a biobased world economy.
Major topics discussed in the technical sessions included enzyme development for biocatalysis, harnessing microorganisms for chemical and energy production, design and implementation of large-scale biorefineries, and the role of academic research and training to meet future industrial needs.
Industrial biotechnology currently accounts for about 5% of global chemical sales, but that figure is expected to reach 10 to 20% by 2010, according to Jens Riese, a conference plenary speaker and a principal with consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Some conference attendees cautioned, however, that the future growth and success of industrial biotech will depend on the fate of crude oil prices and the quality and price swings of feedstock crops.
BIO President Carl B. Feldbaum advised attendees to focus on products that make people’s lives better, deal openly and honestly with potential safety or ethical controversies that may be raised by new technologies or products, and reach out to environmental and agricultural communities as valuable allies.
“Industrial biotechnology can lead the way toward environmentally sustainable industrial and economic growth,” Feldbaum said.