Environmental benefits of enzymes
Novozymes’ main business is the development of enzymes for industrial processes. Enzymes are proteins found throughout nature, in plants, animals and humans. Enzymatic processes have been implemented in a broad range of industries in recent decades because they are specific, fast in action and often save raw materials, energy, chemicals and/or water compared to conventional processes.
Because of their catalytic function, small quantities of enzymes can more efficiently and effectively use resources, reduce use of chemicals and energy, and produce more end-product from less raw materials. Many comparative environmental assessment studies have been conducted in the past 15 years to investigate whether these properties of enzymatic processes lead to environmental improvements and assess whether they could play a role in moving toward cleaner industrial production. Below is an example of savings from enzyme-enabled process changes to textile production but beneficial environmental impacts have been found across many applications and industries.
Enzymes are natural, high-performance alternatives to the chemicals and additives commonly used in the food and beverage industry, and can enhance the production efficiency, quality, and nutritional profile of products such as cereal, juice, pasta and beer. Enzymes convert trans-fatty acids into healthy fats and keep bread fresher longer.
Environmental assessment of enzyme usage in the food industry
We need technologies to make food production more sustainable, but also methods and metrics to measure the climate impact of current and alternative methods of food production.
To determine the environmental impact of introducing enzyme technology in a food manufacturing process we can use a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This methodology enables us to evaluate the environmental impact of producing a product from “cradle to gate”. It can also compare the environmental impacts of alternative production technologies providing the same user benefit. As an example, LCA can be used to compare a conventional and an enzymatic process for the refining of soybean oil. Thus, LCA is a decision-making tool, which supports the choice of the most environmentally attractive system from two or more alternative systems.
LCA provides a holistic view. It studies the whole production life cycle, from production of raw materials to waste disposal and addresses a range of environmental impacts.
Novozymes’ LCA studies typically address the following categories of impact potential:
- energy consumption
- global warming
- nutrient enrichment
- smog formation (photochemical ozone formation)
- land use
Hauschild, W., Wenzel, H. and Altin, L. (1997). Environmental Assessment of Products, Vol. 1. Kluwer Academic Publishers,Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Nielsen PH, Oxenbøll KM, Wenzel H (2006): Cradle-to-Gate Environmental Assessment of Enzyme Products Produced Industrially in Denmark by Novozymes A/S. Int J LCA, OnlineFirst (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1065/lca2006.08.265.1).
Oxenbøll, K. and Ernst, S. Environment as a new perspective on the use of enzymes in the food industry, Food Science and Technology 22(1):35-37 · March 2008.