Implementation of bio-based technologies will only benefit the countries that have appropriately trained human resource, writes Rajinder S Chauhan
Bioeconomy can be defined as the knowledge-based production and utilisation of biological resources, processes and principles to sustainably provide goods and services across all economic sectors. The growing challenges of environment pollution, affordable healthcare, the escalating cost of fossil-based energy, excessive use of petroleum-based consumer products such as plastic coupled with declining returns on traditional agri-based enterprises have posed serious socioeconomic challenges to a country like India. The problem will further aggravate if appropriate measures are not taken to strengthen industrialisation aligned to indigenous resource base such as ‘bio-resource’, which exists in abundance in India. Technological transformation of bio-resource into high-value bio-based products can create a bio-based economy ecosystem, which will not only be environment-friendly but will create jobs throughout the value chain. The biobased products cover a broad range of intermediate products, product components and ready-made products such as bio-based plastics, bio-lubricants, bio-fibres for textiles, composite materials for construction and automotive, chemical and pharmaceutical building blocks, organic acids, amino acids, and industrial enzymes. The bio-based manufacturing can be applied in any sector that currently depends on the fossil industry, including chemicals, materials and energy. In the scenario of castor bean, 80% of the total global cultivated area is in India and around 85% of castor oil produced in India is exported to North America, Europe and China. However, most of the high-value castor oil-derived bio-products are manufactured abroad and then imported back to India at much higher prices. The bio-based economy will thereby accelerate the process of moving away from fossil-based raw materials, which have been detrimental to the environment.
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In the years to come, the use of several biotechnologies is expected to impact markets and estimated to contribute to 35% of the output of platform chemicals and other industrial products that can be manufactured using biotechnology, 80% of pharmaceuticals and diagnostics production, and approximately 50% of agricultural output. However, maximum economic gains through adoption and implementation of modern bio-based technologies will only benefit the countries that have appropriately trained human resource.
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The Bennett University offers a biotech programme that has implemented research-enabled project-based learning ecosystem to equip students with skills and knowledge aligned to futuristic demands of academia and industry. Research on engineering production of medicinal phytochemicals has been supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India. The technical and entrepreneurial skills of biotech students are honed through in-house research-intensive culture.
[The author is dean (Research and Consultancy) and head of the Biotechnology department, Bennett University]