Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News’' first “GreenBioPharma” conference represented an important step in the trend toward making operations at life science companies and organizations more sustainable. That was the opinion of most of the presenters and attendees who gathered at the meeting, which took place in July in Philadelphia.
Experts from academia and industry, including architects, engineers, researchers, process specialists, facility managers, and design and operations management consultants, discussed and brainstormed over innovative strategies for building in green processes and practices.
Topics ranged from environmentally sensitive building design, air-quality monitoring systems, building automation, energy efficiency, water-reduction strategies, biocatalysis to optimize process dynamics, and waste reduction and recycling.
Many of the presentations emphasized the operational efficiencies and sustainable advantages of switching to disposable technologies across the process stream, including savings in labor, energy, water, chemical use, and overall costs.
The speakers stressed the importance of robust metrics, pre- and post-implementation, to document these savings, both as proof-of-principle and to demonstrate the potential cost and efficiency advantages of sustainable initiatives to corporate management, staff, vendors, and customers.
Recurring themes throughout the two days of talks, roundtable discussions, and networking included the following: looking beyond the low-hanging fruit for ways to save energy and water can yield big payoffs; incentives and education should increase buy-in across an organization; and justifying and reaping the benefits of going green depends on quantifiable results.
Commitment Is Key
Across industry and research organizations, the speakers seemed to concur that a commitment to sustainability and eco-consciousness initiated from the top of the corporate/administrative ladder and allowed to filter downward is optimal.
Companies were encouraged first to incorporate sustainability into their own operations and then to expand those principles and practices to internal development and manufacturing processes, and ultimately export up and down the pipeline to suppliers and customers alike.
Beth Junker, Ph.D., senior scientific director in bioprocess R&D at Merck, encouraged companies to assess the environmental footprints of their chemical processes—such as the aquatic toxicity of heavy metals—early in the product life cycle.
“Biopharmaceutical processes are 80% defined at Phase IIb,” she said. Emphasizing the need to quantify and minimize the amount of waste produced, she pointed to the process mass index (PMI) as the “term du jour.”
PMI is composed of a direct (mass of waste/mass of product) and an indirect ([mass inputs-mass outputs]/mass products) component. The E-factor, defined as kg byproduct/g product, is “very high” in pharmaceutical manufacturing compared to many other industries, she said.
Junker identified three main opportunities for waste (including energy) reduction: process intensification, easing of purification bottlenecks, and a shift in focus in purification from product capture to contaminant removal. “We need formal tracking of environmental measures,” including PMI and E-factors, “so we can quantitatively demonstrate progress in environmental footprint reduction,” she said.