DSM's BioTech Benefits

Manufacturing executives love process changes that save money, thus allowing an increase in margin without raising prices. For some, whose companies can take advantage of biotechnology techniques, these process improvements often include a second benefit -- decreased environmental impact. Dutch company DSM NV, a US$7.4 billion diversified manufacturer of chemicals, materials, enzymes and pharmaceutical products, has benefited from the double bonus of industrial biotechnology, sometimes called the "third wave" of biotechnology, after uses in medicines and foods. DSM has used bioprocessing to manufacture an antibiotic ingredient at lower cost while simultaneous reducing toxic waste. Traditionally, synthetic chemical production has been used for these products. In response to increased competition from India and China, DSM developed a pioneering fermentation process in the early 1990s to manufacture a key ingredient in a group of popular antibiotics (cephalasporins). The shortened process (two steps instead of 10) also reduced waste by 90% and removed the most noxious by-products in the waste, according to the 2001 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's "The Application of Biotechnology To Industrial Sustainability." The company opened its ZOR-f plant in Delft, The Netherlands, in 2001 to manufacture the fermented ingredient (7-ADCA) and in May of this year announced it was expanding the plant to increase capacity by more than 50%. The company says the expansion will further reduce costs and increase output. "This is key in the current antibiotics market," says Jan Zuidam, vice chairman of DSM's managing board. "Increased competition and lower penicillin prices today ask for even greater economies of scale."

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