Unexpected powers of Industrial Biotech!
This may sound like a stretch because examples of industrial biotechnology applications usually imply, well, industrial uses of IB. But the definition of industrial biotechnology allows for a wide range of applications due to the fact that it simply states that it uses microorganisms to generate (useful) products. Subsequently, a large range of examples exist where little bugs are used to produce goods – many of which may surprise you.
Alternative power sources have gained more and more momentum with the emergence of wind, solar and hydrothermal generation but less expected is power generation from bacteria. Start-up project plant-e illustrates how bacteria contained in the soil next to plant roots can light up cat’s eyes and other road-marking lighting, such as on roundabouts. Microbial fuel cells are promising candidates in the unusual power generation category because by using bacteria they can enable power production from … pee, or any other organic material for that matter.
Other promising newcomers in the industrial biotechnology field are microalgae. Solazyme is a company which built its business all around them to produce valuable algal oils. These unicellulars grow on any biomass, ranging from corn and corn stover to waste streams, and fermentation speeds up their oil-production by up to 80%. The outlets for these renewable oils are manifold; they can even serve as biobased dielectric insulating fluids for transformers and many other types of electrical equipment.
But IB can go even further: scientists believe they can relieve your car’s shock absorbers by bringing an end to potholes thanks to a concrete blend which contains encapsulated bacteria. These are liberated when exposed to water and immediately produce limestone to fill up (road) cracks and avoid them developing into potholes. The possibilities are endless!