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"We can no longer wait to develop circular and biobased alternatives for food, feed, fuels and materials, " says Marcus Remmers, CTO at DSM. “We are facing enormous challenges like climate change, resource scarcity and malnutrition and we must act now to tackle those issues. Biotechnology can play an important role in this."
Editorial office / Brussels

Remmers spoke at EFIB 2019 in Brussels and was also the chairman of a panel with CEOs of industrial biotechnology companies. “Biotechnology can play an important role in finding circular, biobased solutions that the world so desperately needs to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. But we can’t do this alone. We will need to collaborate across academia, business and government. For example, a few years ago DSM started a private-public partnership, Chemelot InScite, with the province of Limburg, Maastricht University, and the Technical University of Eindhoven. We need more of those partnerships to really make a difference.’’

One of the recent initiatives in the Netherlands is the launch of the open innovation center Biotech Campus Delft, in collaboration with TU Delft, the municipality of Delft, the province of South Holland and the regional development company InnovationQuarter. “We feel that we have an opportunity here, but also the responsibility to contribute to the United Nations sustainability goals through innovation. With regard to three of these goals specifically, we can really make a difference: nutrition and health, circularity, and combating climate change. In each of those areas we work on products that build on our expertise and history of 150 years of biotechnology in Delft.”

Investments outside the EU

However, in his keynote speech at EFIB, Remmers warned that most investments in biotechnology today are outside the EU. What does this mean for DSM’s investments?

“We have locations in the US and China, but we continue to have a strong commitment to Europe and specifically to the Netherlands for biotechnology. Delft is a magnet for talent from all over the world. A few months ago, I was traveling to visit biotech companies on the western side of the US. I was surprised to hear that most centers employ people with either a diploma or a post-doc from Delft. We may not realize it in the Netherlands, but Delft is a center that globally exports its knowledge and way of thinking about biotechnology. It is our primary biotech hub.”

Remmers emphasizes that the preconditions are also important here. The presence of top talent is of the utmost importance. That is why investment in education, including from the government, is crucial. Moreover, European legislation is needed that protects consumers, but at the same time creates an environment that offers biotech companies sufficient scope for innovation. Thirdly, the government can play a role in public financing, but it can also come up with incentives to stimulate investment in research and cooperation.

Two billion

The figures show how important that is. “About 20% of DSM’s total turnover comes from biotechnology. That represents a value of almost € 2 billion.”

DSM is therefore continuing to innovate in this direction. Remmers is enthusiastic about a number of projects that have recently launched or are currently approaching launch. One is Veramaris, the joint venture between DSM and Evonik. “Through fermentation we extract Omega 3 fatty acids from algae, which is used to make feed for farmed salmon. Every kilo of fatty acids from algae means that 60 kilos less fish has to be caught from the ocean. That is a major step towards a more sustainable method of fish farming.’’

In the Avansya joint venture, DSM cooperates with Cargill. “We can produce the natural sweetener stevia through fermentation. This has a much smaller ecological footprint than the traditional stevia extraction, which is energy-intensive and uses a lot of agricultural land.”

“Another technology that we launched a few years ago, is the extraction of bio-ethanol from agricultural biomass residual streams, like corn cobs, stems, stalks, ad leaves that would otherwise remain on land. With our biotech engine we use enzymes to predicate and yeast to produce ethanol. By making use of residual streams we do not compete with fertile land for food production.”