Use biotechnology for green development: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

August 19th, 2008 - 10:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 19 (IANS) Biotechnology provides a viable solution to almost every form of environmental damage and the government must pay more attention to it, says Biocon head Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.Delivering the seventh Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) here Tuesday evening, Mazumdar-Shaw made a strong pitch for development of biofuels in India without compromising food production in any way.

Mazumdar-Shaw, the acknowledged pioneer of India’s biotechnology industry, related how Brazil had achieved its energy security and had been insulated from the current oil price rise due to its development of biofuels, mostly from sugarcane.

“There is a compelling case for India to do the same, but here it has been more rhetoric than anything else. The sector needs serious focus, serious investment. It should be taken up as a national mission.”

The chairman and managing director of Biocon strongly backed the development of marine algae for producing biofuels, pointing out that they could provide at least four times as much oil per hectare as Jatropha, the plant now being backed for producing biofuel.

“Algal fuel have a higher photon conversion efficiency,” Mazumdar-Shaw said. “They can be harvested batch-wise nearly all-year-round providing a reliable and continuous supply of oil.

“They can utilise salt and wastewater streams, greatly reducing freshwater use. They can couple carbon dioxide-neutral fuel production with carbon dioxide sequestration. And they produce non-toxic and highly biodegradable biofuels.”

She said it was “important for the government to clearly enunciate its interest and provide research and development (R&D) money for biofuel development from algae”.

India’s low per capita emission of greenhouse gases - that are leading to climate change - gives it a unique opportunity to take a low-carbon intensive energy development path and earn eco-credits at the same time, Mazumdar-Shaw said.

She wanted India’s energy mix in 2030 to be one-third from fossil fuels, one-third from hydro and biofuels and one-third from nuclear, solar and wind energy sources.

This should change by 2050 to equal dependence on fossil fuels, hydroelectricity, biofuels, nuclear and solar/wind, Mazumdar-Shaw said.

The biotech pioneer wanted the Indian government to commit Rs.10 billion in the next five years for R&D on

* Biofuels from micro-algae and cellulosic biomass;

* Biofuels based on Jatropha and non-food crops;

* Synthetic biology focussed on bio-conversion and photosynthetic pathways;

* Biomaterials such as biodegradable plastics;

* Energy creation from solid and urban waste;

* Sewage and wastewater recycling; and

* Enzymatic bio-conversions.

She also wanted carbon footprints of companies to be made a financial reporting norm, with incentives and disincentives through taxes. “SEBI (Securities and Exchanges Board of India) should introduce this as a regulatory requirement for all listed companies with effects from fiscal year 2009-10.”

Mazumdar-Shaw wanted companies that did not discharge any effluents to be given eco-credits that could be traded with lower electricity tariffs.

She also wanted the government to promote entrepreneurial activity in the area of renewable energy by

* providing grants to projects based on innovation content;

* calling for proposals for large-scale funding;

* encouraging research institutes to spin off companies through seed funding as well as through partnered funding with venture capitalists; and

* funding in-licensing of key patents for value added technology development.

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