18 September 2012

Happy road, Bio-2020!

On the ground, in the forest and at sea Tatiana Bateneva, "Russian Business Newspaper" No. 35-2012

The implementation of a comprehensive program for the development of biotechnologies in the Russian Federation for the period up to 2020 ("Bio-2020") has begun. Its strategic goal is to create a globally competitive, developed biotechnological sector in Russia, which should become the basis for building a post-industrial economy. Oleg Fomichev, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, told the correspondent of RBG how this sector will develop.

– Oleg Vladislavovich, the program sets clear and specific goals: to increase the consumption of biotechnological products by 8.3 times, to reduce the share of imports of these products by half, and to increase the share of exports by 25 times. How were these figures obtained?

– The program's targets were obtained based on expert assessments of the possible volumes of the biotechnological products market. At the same time, the high comparative indicators are due to the so–called "low base" effect – currently the market is so small that any, even insignificant activity – for example, scaling up existing production facilities or the emergence of new, even small ones - automatically gives tangible figures for the growth of consumption, imports and exports.

– State-owned companies and corporations can be given a task. But most of our enterprises today belong to private business – what will interest them?

– Unfortunately, at present the markets of biotechnological products and technologies are in their infancy, their volumes are insignificant, which causes some inertia of the business. First of all, it is necessary to generate demand – innovations cannot appear from scratch, they must be in demand by someone. Then there is a corresponding business that will apply these innovations to gain advantages in certain markets. In order to realize all the advantages of biotechnologies, first of all it is necessary to create markets for its sales.

– What can the government and legislators do for this?

– Firstly, take technical regulation measures that would facilitate the penetration of biotechnologies, introduce stricter environmental standards. Consistently implement public procurement policies that stimulate demand for products produced using biotechnologies. In addition, to carry out a deep systematic revision of legislation aimed at stimulating the production of biotechnological products. Finally, to develop and implement a system of measures to support domestic producers.

This is quite natural – at the initial stages in all developed countries, biotechnologies subsidized or created preferences for biotechnological products in relation to products obtained using traditional technologies. All these measures are spelled out in detail in the Bio-2020 program. The process of its implementation has just begun. In particular, the provisions and indicators of the program are taken into account in the draft state programs.

– The program plans to dramatically increase the export of our biotechnological products. Are competitors waiting for us on the world markets?

– The question is rather whether Russia is ready and able to ensure the export of competitive products to world markets. Currently, of all possible biotechnological products, only pellets and biodiesel are effectively exported, there are no other established markets for bio-products in our country yet. At the same time, Russia has all the necessary prerequisites to maintain its leading position in the "post-oil world" as a supplier of renewable raw materials and products derived from them. We have a developed raw material base, starting from huge reserves of lignocellulose raw materials and ending with an excess of low-grade grain, there are qualified technologists and scientists. We have the lion's share of the world's forest reserves, the most fertile arable land, and a significant part of it has now been withdrawn from agricultural circulation, we have no shortage of fresh water – all this is a reliable basis for building a future bioeconomy. It is extremely important for us not to waste time – the widespread use of renewable sources of raw materials around the world can very soon devalue traditional Russian export goods and lead to the loss of sales markets for our economy. At the same time, developed biotechnologies are able to determine the competitiveness of the country for the long term, solve the issue of national security – food, drug, epidemiological, etc.

– Biopharmaceuticals and biomedicine are among the priorities of the program. But the tasks for them have already been set in the Pharma 2020 program. What is additionally provided in this section by the Bio-2020 program?

– The Pharma 2020 program combines various methods of pharmaceutical production, both chemical and biological. Bio-2020 develops the part related to biopharmaceuticals, that is, protein preparations, vaccines, cellular technologies, etc. These are fundamentally different production and testing technologies, so it is quite reasonable to consider them separately.

– Judging by the funds, bioenergy has been chosen as the most important priority (more than 30% of the total funding of the program). Does this mean that the possibilities of hydro, heat and nuclear power in the country have been exhausted? Won't bioenergy products be more expensive than its traditional types?

– The amounts of financing indicated in the program imply not only state participation, but also investments in the industry as a whole. As for projects in the field of bioenergy, they can be divided into two key groups. In the first, there are small projects for the transfer of boiler houses from coal, fuel oil and diesel fuel to wood waste, agricultural waste, etc. These are mainly commercial projects, the number of which is huge, and the volume of public investment in each is insignificant. The second group includes projects for the production of biofuel components. These are quite large projects, there are few of them. However, even in this case, the state's participation is likely to be limited to stimulating demand and supporting instruments – guarantees, subsidizing the interest rate, etc.

– Having invested the funds, the business will be interested in their speedy return, so the price of energy will still be high? But then who will buy it?

– The main factor influencing the formation of prices for bioenergy products is logistics: if you carry biomass in the same way as coal, then the final energy will eventually turn out to be more expensive. However, if we exclude logistics costs and use local biomass, the cost of 1 Gcal of bioenergy is one and a half, and sometimes 6 times lower than coal or fuel oil. In addition, when using bioenergy products, a lot of environmental problems are solved: for example, all regions north of the Trans-Siberian abound in unclaimed wood waste, which lead to extremely negative environmental consequences. On the other hand, if we compare gas and bioenergy, already today in many regions (for example, in Stavropol) the cost of heat when burning straw is lower than when burning gas.

– The products of industrial, veterinary and food biotechnology are intended both for obtaining new feeds for agriculture and new food products. And is there any confidence that this will find understanding in society? We remember the history of feed protein factories, which ended ingloriously in the mid-1980s – they were closed because of the harmful effects on human health.

– To solve the problem of production of such products in the Russian Federation is one of the most important tasks of the program. This is a matter of strategic development of the country, ensuring food security. As for the situation at the production facilities themselves, everything has changed significantly since the 80s: the introduction of international standards, strict control of all levels of the production cycle (including with the participation of international experts), mandatory environmental measures - all this gives reason to talk about the safety of modern production facilities.

– The program provides for the development of innovative technologies for the use of forest resources, including deep processing of wood biomass, production of raw materials for the pulp and paper mill, etc. These are very capital-intensive productions, but only 45 billion rubles are allocated for them in the program. Will they be enough to fulfill such ambitious plans?

– Again, we are not talking about the implementation of certain projects exclusively at the expense of the state. It is planned that both state corporations and private businesses will join the process. Russian developers of biotechnologies have something to interest private capital in. There are already a number of successful examples of the implementation of large innovative projects that can have a noticeable impact on the economy of the relevant industries. One of them is being implemented in Tulun, Irkutsk region, by one of the subsidiaries of the State Corporation "Rostechnologies" – "RT-Biotechprom". A pilot plant is being created there to convert lignocellulose raw materials (wood processing waste, sawdust) into products with high added value. This is the first bio–processing plant in the country (by analogy with an oil refinery), which uses not hydrocarbons, but renewable biomass as raw materials, and is capable of producing such valuable products as butanol, which can be used as motor fuel or additive, as organic acids - raw materials for polymer chemistry, as feed yeast for feed production. Its launch is scheduled for 2014. The cost of this pilot project is one billion rubles, 200 million of them were provided as a grant by the Ministry of Education and Science.

– Is the project unique for Russia?

– In case of successful testing of a complex of innovative technologies, this experience is planned to be scaled up and extended to other enterprises of the hydrolysis industry, moving from energy-intensive and environmentally hazardous technologies of acid hydrolysis of wood to "green", effective biotechnologies. In the Belgorod region, another major project is being implemented for the complex processing of low–value raw materials of poultry farms - down, feather and the so-called meat and bone residue formed during poultry processing. This is an example of a domestic development that is ahead of its global counterparts, which has passed all the degrees of an innovative elevator from the initial private financing, subsequent targeted financing from the Ministry of Education and Science (about 180 million rubles) and the Rusnano investment project and a consortium of foreign investors (about 4.5 billion rubles). As a result of the introduction of a complex of biotechnologies, it is possible to return to the consumer's table in the form of a full-fledged protein product up to 20% of the protein contained in the broiler, and another 10-12% of the protein is recovered in the form of feed products. Two plants are under construction in Russia, the launch is scheduled for the end of 2013. The technology has a significant export potential: a plant in Belgium is already operating, production facilities in Italy and France are in the design stage. There are other examples of successful projects.

– Methods of bioconversion of the consequences of anthropogenic impact on the environment are of great interest. However, as experience shows, business is rather reluctant to introduce any methods of improving the environmental safety of harmful industries. How can these processes be stimulated?

– Economic stimulus measures are needed here. For companies using biotechnologies for such purposes, it is possible to provide tax benefits, targeted grants and subsidies, loans on preferential terms, etc. It is also possible to apply so–called negative incentives - sanctions for the non-use of modern biotechnologies if environmental damage was caused as a result of the refusal to use them. Work on appropriate measures to regulate the industry has already begun.

– Another interesting section of the program is marine biotechnology. It is planned to create aquabiocenters, develop technologies for deep processing of commercial aquatic organisms, etc. But the country still does not have modern technologies and infrastructure for processing ordinary fish and seafood. How is this gap supposed to be bridged?

– The program provides for the creation of an entire network of aquatic centers in the Far East and other regions of the country. Their task is primarily the reproduction of bioresources of hydrobionts based on the latest achievements of biotechnology. We have modern technologies developed in the leading scientific institutes of the country, for example, the cultivation of trepangs, sturgeon, etc. Cooperation in the field of aquabiotechnology is developing with scientific centers in Europe, China, Japan, South and North America. In recent years, modern fish processing plants have been created in the Kaliningrad region, but this is not enough. Serious investments are needed in the processing industry and infrastructure, the construction of vessels with deep processing capacities for hydrobionts. The program plans a whole range of measures in this direction, the implementation of which, along with the state program "Development of the fisheries complex" will seriously raise the level of the industry.

– The topic of obtaining new species of fast-growing trees and plants using genetic engineering is extremely interesting. However, conservationists will surely fight against this. Are funds planned for explanatory work?

– Any new technology should be publicly discussed. However, in the field of biotechnology, funds for a public company, unfortunately, are not planned. We have high hopes for technology platforms, which are a tool for harmonizing the interests of the state, business, scientific and expert communities, consumers and civil society as a whole in breakthrough areas of technological development. We hope that in the future this institute will undertake the popularization of promising, safe and necessary technologies for the country.

– There is no doubt that agricultural biotechnology is the main way of development of the world economy. However, our country is extremely wary of topics such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), transgenesis, the use of microorganisms to restore soil fertility, molecular breeding of animals, etc. How is it planned to overcome this wariness?

– The complex of issues related to GMOs is really ambiguous and causes discussions. It requires the development of coordinated decisions of the legislative, executive and various sectors of society. We have created a legislative, regulatory and methodological framework regulating the safety assessment and control over the turnover of GMO products. There is a scientifically based evidence base for the absence of adverse effects on human health when eating foods containing GMOs and registered in accordance with the established procedure. The turnover of GMO products in the food market is monitored. At the same time, the study of the impact of newly created types of food products obtained using GMOs on human health and future generations does not lose relevance. In June, parliamentary hearings were held on the topic "Legislative regulation of the turnover of genetically modified products in the Russian Federation". Based on their results, recommendations have been developed to legislative and executive authorities on improving the legislative framework in the field of regulating the turnover of genetically modified products.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru18.09.2012

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