Updated on 21 June 2012
Biotechnology offers a variety of solutions for different sectors, taking the world closer to a greener future
Biotechnology has helped Jiangxi Copper, China's largest producer of copper, remove tons of copper from waste water at its plant in Dexing City of Jiangxi Province. It uses a patented technology of a Canadian biotechnology company, BiotecQ, to treat the water and extract copper from it.
In 2009, Dexing Copper Mine, which produces tons of copper concentrate every year, treated 5.5 million cubic meter of water and removed close to 1.7 million pounds of copper from the environment. Jiangxi Copper, which also produces sulphur, gold and silver, and operates the five largest mines in China, uses the BioSulphide and ChemSulphide processes of BiotecQ for the job.
Similarly, there are other companies like BioteQ around the world that are focusing on biotechnology for producing biofuels, improving cloth material, finding alternative to petroleum-based plastic, nutraceuticals and other things. The technology has found its use in a variety of other fields such as forensic science, aquaculture, industrial production and animal husbandry. In forensic sciences, biotechnology has applications in the DNA-matching tests, establishment of genetic relationships; DNA-mapping; DNA-fingerprinting and genetic analysis. In animal husbandry, biological processes can be used for poultry production and goat rearing.
The technology used by Jiangxi Copper, called bioleaching, uses bacteria, principally Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, Leptospirillum ferrooxidans, and thermophilic species of Sulfobacillus, Acidianus and Sulfolobus, to leach metal of value, such as copper, zinc, uranium, nickel and cobalt from a sulphide mineral. Bioleaching places the metals of interest in the solution phase during oxidation. These solutions are then handled for maximum metal recovery and the solid residue is discarded. The Dexing plant generated an operating profit for the joint venture, ensuring that the water treatment plant is both economically and environmentally sustainable.Biotechnology has many such potential applications in the mining industry, including metal leaching, metal recovery, impurity removal, product upgrading and treatment of acid rock drainage.
Commercial applications include processing of refractory gold concentrates to release gold for conventional recovery and bioleaching of copper in heap and dump leach operations. Commercial application of stirred tank bioleaching for the recovery of copper has also developed in the recent years that require installation of large bioreactors.Applications of biotechnolgy in biofuels producing biofuels is also becoming significant, given the need for alternative and green fuel. An Indian biotechnology company, Sea6 Energy, is developing a bio-process for converting seaweed into biofuel. The Sea6 Energy team is researching the crucial components of new biotechnology required to enable the conversion of seaweed biomass into sugar and then to biofuel. The team is also looking to minimize the use of fresh water in the processes. The company hopes that it will be possible to rapidly scale-up seaweed biofuel as it is eco-friendly and a viable replacement for fossil fuels.