EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

Regarding ‘Greens embrace enzymes in climate change fight‘:

This is a serious issue and is much like that of genetically-modified organisms.

Using enzymes to disrupt biomass is tantamount to opening up the proverbial ‘Pandora’s box”. You do not know the consequences and you do not know where it will end.

It is all very well for companies to suggest that this is the answer to making biofuels, but hold on a moment. These organisms are not all they are claimed to be. Yes, they can assist, but what happens if they leach out of their base process, or are inadvertently modified and then leach out and are used by the military?

We should be aware that by tinkering with these organisms and then using them in this way, should they be released ‘inadvertently’ they could totally devastate the very flora upon which we depend to sustain our existence. Has this notion of use ever been thought through? Consider what would happen if an enzyme used to break down wood was released across the arboreal forests of Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Baltic States and Russia! The whole area would be devastated within months, much like the wheat rusts and the cassava fungal rots that were released recently in West Africa to ensure that corn and sugar-cane ethanol prices were favoured over other routes.

There has to be some concern here, and I for one here wish to address these by raising this concern here! It is real and many in the industry are concerned about it.

When one or two companies hold up the notion that these enzymes are made to benefit the manufacture of biofuels straight from biomass, they are not doing it for anything else other than self-interest. If you do not believe this, then we should note and then watch their share prices rise on the back of such publicity! This is nothing to do with beneficial uses of enzymes, for once they have a market and control that market, they control more of that market (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

The European Union has within its grasp a number of aspiring companies that are in the area of manufacturing biofuels from non-food sources which it could help much more forcefully than it does at this time. I recently heard of one particular application to the FP7 Team where a company’s process using dilute-acid hydrolysis and a proprietary piece of innovative engineering – the gravity pressure vessel – had been proposed but was rejected through a mistake by the proposing company.

The process and its background is one of over 180 years’ base and requires no specially engineered enzymes to reduce the biomass to the sugars for making biofuels. Isn’t this what we need as much as has been paraded here? The original company behind the process that has brought this patented tool to the EU is still there, forging ahead without this needed help of the EU. So why hasn’t the EU made a direct approach to them to get around this application nonsense?

This is the sort of innovation in a process developed by a company which is sorely needed by us here in the EU, and the EU is not helping it at all. Here is a process and a tool which can tackle the huge waste mountains of biomass readily and cheaply, and yet it is being ignored. The EU could assist here, as it is spending our taxpayers’ money on hugely expensive alternatives many of which have little prospect of becoming commercially sensible.

Here is a process which is shortly to be used in real programmes to convert the biomass from municipal solid waste to make ethanol at a number of facilities including: Mytum and Selby in West Yorkshire, and projects in Vietnam, China, India and the Mediterranean communities as well as in the USA. And as a process which has the potential to turn municipal solid waste in to ethanol in a manner which has both a low initial capital cost (around a third of the thermal destruction processes like that proposed for Dublin or Kuala Lumpur/Malaysia and for Hertfordshire/UK) and an equally low-cost operations and maintenance involvement, it is here and waiting to be rolled out with the EU’s support.

Geraldine Edwards

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