Biotech is climate tech: how biotech is building a sustainable future

climate tech

Biotechnology plays a pivotal role when it comes to mitigating climate change and reducing carbon emissions in many sectors, including health and agriculture. The new episode of I am BIO features guests whose innovative approaches prove that biotech is indeed climate tech.

Net zero facility pioneers

United Therapeutics, a biotech company developing treatments for pulmonary hypertension and cancer, is focused on both the health of patients as well as the environment. The company was launched in the mid-90s, when CEO Dr. Martine Rothblatt’s daughter was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension.

“One thing that Martine has always guided us in the corporate real estate group is that our mission as a company is to save people’s lives and that we cannot do that if at the detriment of the environment,” Andy Campbell, Associate Director of Corporate Real Estate for United Therapeutics, told I am BIO.

With sustainability being part of its core values, United Therapeutics, with the help of Tesla, opened the first net zero cold storage warehouse that aligns with good manufacturing practices (GMP). What makes their achievement most impressive is that a GMP facility used to store pharmaceuticals “must meet exacting standards for 24/7 temperature control.”

“We really wanted to push the envelope on what was possible in the world of net zero energy,” Campbell said.

“So for this particular facility, we’ve actually pursued net zero operational carbon, meaning that, over the course of the year, we are generating as much electricity on site that we will be using through the facility and doing so without any carbon generation behind it,” he explained.

United Therapeutics currently has a total of five net zero facilities—one of which is Unisphere, their headquarters building in Silver Spring, Maryland—and it’s the largest site-powered net zero commercial building in the United States.

Unisphere, according to Campbell, “is a groundbreaking achievement in every way, shape, or form,” which features geothermal wells under the footprint of the building, helping the building reduce its heating and cooling loads.

United Therapeutics’ net zero efforts don’t stop there. Their GMP manufacturing facility in The Research Triangle in North Carolina is yet another groundbreaking construction as it’s an embodied-carbon building made with decarbonized materials.

“As a public benefit corporation, our mission is not just to our stakeholders, but to our patients, our people, and the environment as well. And knowing that we can make these commitments to improve the environment, to improve society as a whole is really important to us,” Campbell said.

Reducing the carbon footprint with sustainable aviation practices

“Leveraging of biotechnology innovation is going to be key in order to enable advances in climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience,” Tamra Spielvogel, Climate Policy Director for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), told the podcast.

BIO members Virent and LanzaTech are two great examples of how harnessing innovation can help in reducing the adverse effect of climate change.

Dave Kettner, President and General Counsel at Virent, told BIO about the company’s BioForming® process: “converting plant-based sugars into a full range of hydrocarbon products identical to those made from petroleum, including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and chemicals for plastics and fibers.”

“It’s greener, because what we’re doing is we’re recycling the carbon from the atmosphere, pulling that carbon through plant resources, and then letting the plants and Mother Nature kind of do its thing to take that carbon, turn into a useful material that ultimately we can turn into jet fuel,” Kettner said.

LanzaTech’s approach is slightly different, as the company takes carbon and gives it new life, turning it into commercial and consumer products. With the help of a carbon-fixing microbe called Clostridium autoethanogenum, LanzaTech built a process where the microbe feeds on gases.

“Using this process, we can make ethanol, which is the basis for fuels but also are the key building blocks for various consumer goods like apparel, packing, cleaners, detergents,” said Michael Koepke, Chief Innovation Officer at LanzaTech.

Biotech is climate tech

“If you care about ending hunger and food insecurity across the globe, then you have to care about what we are doing in technology innovations as well, because you can’t do one without the other,” Spielvogel added, discussing how COP28 highlighted the role of biotech.

We must mention methane, another major greenhouse gas addressed at COP28 by the U.S. government and BIO. Biotech is helping to reduce methane by improving rice farming and animal feed that limits cow belches.

“Biotech companies are at the forefront of driving new and innovative technologies to address climate change,” says podcast host, BIO Deputy VP Theresa Brady. “Biotech is climate tech.”

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