The global warming that we have been experiencing for years now is caused by a huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions. While the emission of these gases is a natural phenomenon of life on our planet, human activities in recent decades have been adding inexorably more greenhouse gas, negatively impacting the climate. The bioeconomy, by using renewable raw materials instead of fossil resources, helps mitigate climate change by reducing emissions from fossil carbon in the atmosphere and capturing more carbon in the biosphere.
The carbon cycle
Carbon is stored on our planet in these major sinks:
- as organic molecules in living and dead organisms found in the biosphere
- as the gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
- as organic matter in soils
- in the lithosphere as fossil fuels and sedimentary rock deposits such as limestone, dolomite and chalk
- in the oceans as dissolved atmospheric carbon dioxide and as calcium carbonate shells in marine organisms
The carbon cycle is a complex and very efficient natural system based on a fragile equilibrium.
Every year, 30% of the atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by plants thanks to the photosynthesis process. Then, when those plants die and decompose, the living organisms in the soil, such as bacteria, fungi or earthworms, transform them into organic matter. This carbon-rich organic material is essential for human nutrition because it retains water, nitrogen and phosphorus, essential for growing plants. Over geological time frames, the organic matter is also fossilized, providing petroleum, natural gas and coal.
Innovation can mitigate climate warming on a global scale
Today, innovative and agile start-ups are the driving force behind the introduction of new biotech solutions. Some are developing new technologies to produce chemicals in a more sustainable way. They either use alternative raw materials made from renewable biomass and agricultural by-products or they achieve significant reductions in energy consumption while operating existing production processes.
Biobased “green chemistry” uses new methods to offer the same molecules as the conventional fossil-based processes with a significantly lower carbon footprint.
The bioeconomy still only accounts for a small part of the global chemical industry, but it is the vanguard of a new era. In order to reach ambitious emissions targets, corporations and countries need to look into these innovative processes and products.
As alternative solutions become more prevalent, the need to reinvent incumbent industrial models will become clearer. Start-ups can help big chemical corporations review their established operations and to scale up new bioeconomy models. New production standards will fall into place. Such cooperation will surely have a positive impact on global climate change.