Lifecycle assessments of a series of products provide better documentation of the environmental benefits of biological solutions.
Novozymes' business builds on a vision of contributing to sustainable development and creating value in a wider societal context. It is important for Novozymes to be able to predict society's needs and requirements, and to help customers meet the demands made of them.
A lifecycle assessment (LCA) is a scientifically based study of a product's positive and negative environmental impacts throughout its lifecycle, from resources and raw materials through production to use and disposal.
The performance of LCAs has helped to make visible the value creation linked to the use of biological solutions. Assessments show that biological solutions contribute to a lower environmental impact and better resource utilisation.
We are also working on the development of new indicators to measure value creation. In this connection we are following with interest the research under way into the development of economic calculation models for sustainable value creation.
With or without enzymes
LCAs are used to compare different production processes with and without the use of enzymes. For example, this could be the production of 1,000 litres of edible oil at an oil factory, 100 loaves of bread at a bakery, or washing 10 kg of laundry – all with or without using enzymes.
LCAs have been performed for nine of Novozymes' products in recent years. These nine enzymes broadly represent the company's different product types, including detergent enzymes, feed enzymes and enzymes for the oils & fats, baking and fuel ethanol industries. The overall conclusion is that the environment benefits when biotechnology and the use of enzymes replace traditional industrial processes.
The comparison entails studying all of the processes in the product chain – from the production of the raw materials through production to application by the customer and ultimate waste disposal. All processes materially affected, directly or indirectly, by the use of enzymes are included in the assessment.
Five key parameters are measured: energy consumption, contribution to the greenhouse effect, acidification, eutrophication and smog.
Novozymes complies with the ISO 14040 standard for LCAs, and all assessments undergo a critical external review.
Increased dialogue with customers
LCAs are often performed in close collaboration with customers. This work is also expected to contribute to increased dialogue with customers concerning not only product and process development but also the commercial and societal aspects of enzyme use.
The use of LCAs need not be restricted to the analysis of finished products. The model is being developed so that future environmental impacts of products is included when evaluating the overall potential of new products early in the development process.
The environmental benefits of a baking enzyme
Use of the baking enzyme Novamyl® is one example of a process which has undergone a lifecycle assessment. Novamyl® is used in the production of white bread and helps the loaf to stay soft and fresh for longer. This means a substantial reduction in the amount of bread thrown away because it has gone stale. The nutritional value of the bread is unaffected by Novamyl®. Practical experience from US bakeries shows that doubling the quantity of Novamyl® reduces the amount of bread wasted from 14% to 6%. This is very significant in a country like the USA where approximately 2.8 million tons of white bread are produced every year.
Looking at the broader picture, this reduction means that resources are saved, from the growing of the wheat on farms through to final waste disposal.
The consumption of resources and impact on the environment from the production of the enzymes are outweighed by the savings and reductions made in connection with the production of the bread. Looking at the example where the amount of Novamyl® was doubled, there was an average improvement of almost 10% for all five parameters of the LCA.