Will enzymes save the world ?

These natural proteins (enzymes) can replace many chemical products in many sectors such as agriculture, textiles or oil industry. An great opportunity for companies looking for a greener supply chain.

One of the easiest ways to build a greener economy is to use natural solutions. Novozymes, a Danish biotech company that works across different industries, from food to clothing and energy, has thus logically taken this path. To make production processes more eco-friendly, the company uses invisible proteins that literally surround us, even though we can’t seem them — enzymes. These proteins, which are part of every living cell, are involved in a wide area of natural reactions. When a mushroom takes nutrients from the soil to grow, he does so by sending enzymes. They are also involved in the beer fermentation process, and in digestion.

Clothes that don’t wear out

“Nature has so many smart solutions,” says Claus Stig Pedersen, Head of Global Sustainability at Novozymes. “We employ many researchers who explore different territories to find reactions that could be used in one industry or another. Then, they take a sample and go back to the lab. Once we have found the enzymes that make the reaction happen, we produce them on an industrial scale.”

For example, Novozymes uses stain-removing enzymes, offering a greener alternative to non-biological laundry detergents that are currently available on the market. The fashion industry being one of the world’s biggest polluter, Novozymes has been focusing some of its efforts on it. The company has also partnered with Marks & Spencer for its StayNew line, focused on sustainable clothes. “By adding enzymes to the production process, you obtain stronger textiles and fibers. Clothes stay new longer, and people keep them twice as long.”

Turning agricultural waste into biofuels

Novozymes is also targeting food and agriculture. One of the company’s most brilliant discoveries is an enzyme that makes fruits more juicy. “The enzymes open up the little cells that hold the juice, and you can then extract 10 to 15% more juice from one fruit,” says Claus Stig Pedersen. There is also an enzyme that, once included in the bread baking process, makes for bread that takes more time to get dry. A good way to reduce waste. Novozymes is also making agriculture more sustainable, by offering natural substitutes to pesticides.

Although food, agriculture and fashion are all big polluters, oil is by far the most carbon-intensive industry. It won’t come as a surprise, then, that Novozymes is exploring biofuels as an alternative to the black gold. The company’s enzymes make it possible to recycle agricultural waste and turn it into sugar, which can then be fermented into ethanol. Through all these different use cases, Novozymes has become the global leader in industrial enzymes, controlling about 48% of the market and holding more than 6,500 patents.

Talking to the right people

Another proof that Novozymes is deeply committed to environmental protection is the choice that the company made, in 2015, to focus on products and solutions that fit the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “Our business model is all about helping our customers make their production processes more sustainable. So aligning our strategy with the UN Sustainable Development Goals was a natural move for us,” says Claus Stig Pedersen. A part of the company’s top executives compensation is tied to the company’s ability to meet its commitments.

Biotechs are now becoming more and more popular, and have proved that they can offer a sustainable business model. But according to Claus Stig Pedersen, there is still a long way to go.  “Today, there is no denying that when you use solutions from nature, you get better results. But biotechnology could still be growing a lot more. One of the things that’s slowing adoption is the price of oil, which has been dropping over the last few years, making natural solutions less attractive. A greener fiscality could help.

But the hurdles we are facing are mostly psychological. There’s a lot of tradition, a lot of resistance to change, all of that is slowing adoption. That’s why it’s very important that we keep working with governments, but also with NGOs and influencers, to drive the use of these technologies. We were very happy when the EU adopted its renewable energy directive, which will strongly promote biofuels, last year. It’s an idea we had been working on for years, and we were pleased to see the outcome.”

This article was written by our partner Sparknews.