Innovation is crucial to fulfil the potential of industrial biotechnology for sustainable production of fuels, chemicals, materials, food and feed. Similarly, scientific and technological advances in environmental biotechnology are needed to enable novel approaches to water purification, and ‘waste-to-product’ processes thus contributing to a circular economy. Increased fundamental knowledge encompassing enzymes, microorganisms and processes are essential for progress in this field. The Department of Biotechnology covers this research area and, based on new insights, selects, designs and tests new biobased catalysts, micro-organisms, and processes.
The department encompasses five research sections:
09 November 2023
Are Sustainability and Safety Incompatible?In the world of biotechnology, safety and sustainability might sometimes be at odds. When conflicts arise, decision-makers must carefully weigh the trade-offs, addressing potential risks and ethical concerns in order to make informed choices. According to two TU Delft professors, safety and sustainability need to go hand in hand to ensure that biotechnological processes and products are developed and managed responsibly. text Heather Montague Risks and responsibilities With the rise of the circular economy, finding ways to use waste for other purposes has become a hot topic. But there are risks involved, says Lotte Asveld , Associate Professor of Ethics & Biotechnology at TU Delft. “People have high standards when it comes to using wastes as resources. Anything that comes out of the sewer doesn’t feel very comfortable to have in your house.” In that sense, she sees a clash between sustainability and safety but also believes they should be combined. “We can’t make everything 100% safe, but we should look towards what risks people find acceptable.” Societal acceptance of using waste as a resource requires that regulations and responsibilities be well aligned. We also need to reevaluate the way we learn about risks, according to Asveld. She notes that biotechnology is strictly regulated, but in the chemical industry, companies themselves are responsible for learning about and identifying risks. “As new risky substances keep emerging, what needs to happen in the innovation ecosystem to make sure that these responsibilities have a place?” Learning about these risks is not always an inherent part of a company’s structure and that needs to change. “My objective is to make sure that safety is something that we talk about, that we don’t take for granted, that we discuss amongst each other; what does it mean, how can we achieve it, and how do we see our responsibility to society and achieving safety?” The future is green The term ‘green chemistry’ was introduced some thirty years ago, according to Ulf Hanefeld , Professor of Biotechnology at TU Delft’s Faculty of Applied Sciences. The aim is to enable society to make what is currently made, or alternatives, in a sustainable and safe manner. “So how can I make the compounds that we as a society think we need in a sustainable manner, starting from readily available materials, performing reactions that are inherently safe,” says Hanefeld. “For me, safety and sustainability go hand in hand.” There are advantages and opportunities that come along with green chemistry. If you take all the starting materials, make only products out of it and don’t generate any waste, that results in higher profit. And there is also an opportunity to develop a new chemistry. “Consider that our current chemistry always starts from petrochemicals, which are very low in terms of functionality,” Hanefeld explains. “If you use sustainable materials like sugars or lignin or plant waste, that is always highly functionalised. Because we have a new type of starter material, we’re doing it all new, and it is a chance to develop it safe from the start. Download article Download article
07 November 2023
Safe and affordable red blood cells without donorsThe production of cultured red blood cells (cRBCs) holds the promise of being a potentially unlimited source of cells that could meet the increasing demand for red blood cell transfusions.
25 July 2023
Going abroad: Rubicon grant for Aafke van AalstPhD Candidate Aafke van Aalst has received a Rubicon grant from NWO, which enables her to gain research experience at a leading institute abroad for two years. The coveted grant was awarded to 15 young, highly promising researchers in total.
25 November 2019
Mark van Loosdrecht elected as member of the Chinese Academy of EngineeringThe Chinese Academy of Engineering (CEA) has announced that it has elected Mark van Loosdrecht, Professor of Environmental Biotechnology, as a member.
11 September 2019
Cable bacteria: Living electrical wires with record conductivityBacteria that power themselves using electricity and are able to send electrical currents over long distances through highly conductive power lines. It almost sounds like the way we charge our TVs and refrigerators, and may seem hard to believe, but it is a recent discovery by a team of scientists from the University of Antwerp (Belgium), Delft University of Technology (Netherlands) and the University of Hasselt (Belgium). Centimeter-long bacteria from the seafloor contain a conductive fiber network that operates in comparable way to the copper wiring that we use to transport electricity. The highly conductive fibers enable a completely new interface between biology and electronics, providing a prospect for new materials and technology.
18 July 2019