White biotechnology is biotechnology used for industrial purposes. Industries incorporating white biotechnology use living organisms, organic materials, or chemical components of living organisms such as enzymes in the production process. Applications of white biotechnology currently being used or researched include manufacturing processes, the creation of biomaterials, and alternate energy sources. In addition to purely commercial benefits, white biotechnology is also being researched as a way to make industry more environmentally friendly by providing less polluting sources of energy, lessening dependence on fossil fuels, and creating industrial processes with fewer polluting by-products.
The description white is used to differentiate industrial biotechnology from the red biotechnology used in medicine and the green biotechnology used in agriculture. The boundaries between these fields are fuzzy. For example, cultivating plants or fungi in order to use them in the mass production of medical drugs has elements of both white and red biotechnology. Biofuels may eventually be made using plants genetically engineered for that specific purpose and would straddle the line between green and white biotechnology. White biotechnology is the least developed of these fields, and many of its potential applications will require further development before they become economically viable.
Biological processes are based on chemical processes, and so white biotechnology is being incorporated into many production processes and products that involve chemical reactions. Some chemicals used in industry, such as some polymers and acids, can be produced biologically rather than through conventional means. Industrial enzymes can be used in chemical-intensive processes such as the production of paper and the treatment of textiles and leather for clothing. Cleaning products made with this kind of biotechnology, such as laundry and dishwashing detergents, use enzymes in the place of conventional inorganic chemicals.
Another application is bionergy, the production of electricity and fuel from the chemical energy in biomass. One advantage of this is that bioenergy can be produced from agricultural byproducts such as straw, manure, and sugar cane residue. Biomass can also come from crops grown for that specific purpose, such as maize, soybeans, and some types of grass. Algae is also being researched as a possible source of bioenergy. Bioenergy is used in power plants and in biofuels such as ethanol, biodiesel, and bioether. Environmental concerns have been an important impetus to biofuel research, as biofuels generally burn cleaner than fossil fuels, are a renewable resource, and create a use for materials that may otherwise have simply been discarded as waste.