Emerging technologies

Biotechnology for Sustainable Industrial Development


OECD work on industrial biotechnology began with a focus mainly on bioremediation, or using biotechnology to prevent, detect and remedy environment damage. The OECD's first major report on this topic, Biotechnology for a Clean Environment: Prevention, Detection, Remediation , appeared in 1994.

As a follow-up to that study, Japan sponsored a workshop in November 1994 ( Bioremediation: The Tokyo '94 Workshop ) which emphasised the efficient and safe reduction of pollutant hazards, as well as long-term applications of biotechnology for environmental quality. Then, in November 1995, the Netherlands hosted a workshop ( Wider Application and Diffusion of Bioremediation Technologies: The Amsterdam '95 Workshop ) on wider application and diffusion of bioremediation. It focused on remedying pollution in soil and air, particularly in the context of industry. In October 1996, Mexico sponsored a workshop ( Biotechnology for Water Use and Conservation: The Mexico '96 Workshop ) on the role of biotechnology for water use and conservation, which covered both remediation and prevention/conservation issues.

This work progressively broadened over the following years to address how adverse environmental impacts can be reduced or eliminated by more appropriate design of products and industrial processes. In short, how biotechnology can contribute to shifting our industrial system towards sustainability. In May 1998, OECD Ministers agreed that the achievement of sustainable development is a key priority for OECD countries. This lead to the development of the OECD Horizontal Project on Sustainable Development , including social and environmental, as well as economic, aspects. A report on the 3-year project was submitted to the OECD Council Ministerial Meeting in May 2001.

In this context, the Biotechnology Unit of the Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry examines how bioprocesses that produce lower amounts of by-products and consume less energy can be used. The Working Party on Biotechnology and its Task Force on Biotechnology for Sustainable Industrial Development, under the leadership of Canada, carries out this work by reviewing methods for assessing competing technologies.

As a result of this effort a report was published on Biotechnology for Clean Industrial Products and Processes in 1998.  The report illustrated how modern process biotechnology is penetrating industrial operations, and highlighted its environmental and economic advantages over other technologies. It identified technical and other bottlenecks, but also emphasised that industry and governments must act together to address the challenges of industrial sustainability.

The Application of Biotechnology to Industrial Sustainability, report published in 2001 draws from 21 case studies on environmental and economic benefits from a range of industries and OECD countries.


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