Biomimicry for Optimal Water Temperature

Dennis Pamlin
(The Low-Carbon Leaders Project of Caring for Climate Initiative)

This article describes the transformative policy approach highlighted by Biomimicry for optimal water temperature : supporting low-carbon feedback and avoiding high-carbon feedback

Short Description of Optimal Water Temperature

Biomimicry is one of the most promising new approaches to carbon
reduction, resource conservation, and cost reduction.1 By learning from nature many processes can become a lot more effcient. Effciency-enhancing industrial biotechnology solutions are an area of biomimicry with medium to low market penetration, presenting significant opportunities for further growth.

In many industrial biotechnology applications, enzymes are used as auxiliary agents at some point in the manufacturing process and are not, as a rule, present in the finished product – at any rate, not in an active form.2

The most-known application of enzymes is in the manufacture of enzymatic washing agents (detergents). For 40 years, the use of enzymes in detergents has been the largest of all industrial enzyme applications in society. Consumers of detergents are actual users of an enzymatic product. The enzymes allow for removing stains at lower temperatures.3 With the new generation of cold water enzymes, washing temperatures can be reduced from 40°C to 30°C, without sacrificing cleanliness, saving 30 percent of the electricity used.4

Enzymes partly replace other, often less desirable, chemicals in detergents
and can reduce both the duration of the washing cycle and water consumption. Enzymes are readily bio-degradable, and present a much smaller risk to aquatic life than the surfactants they replace, minimizing the environmental impact of detergents. Use of enzymes in the laundering process reduces eco-toxic substances by between 5 and 60 percent, depending on the product.5

Treatment of cotton fibres is another area of application for enzymes in the textile industry. Traditionally, before cotton can be dyed, it goes through numerous processes including a series of chemical treatments and rinses. With a biotechnology process, it is possible to reduce the use of chemicals and therefore the amount of water needed to rinse the fibers by as much as 30-50 percent. Compared to the traditional chemical process, the enzymatic process lowers the pH from 14 to 9 (7 = pH neutral) and the temperature from 95°C to 55°C. This implies important energy savings.

Also, the water required for rinsing is reduced by half, which, in addition to the energy savings, makes the process cheaper. Finally, fibre strength and softness are improved and, because the process is milder on the cotton, a higher yield can be achieved.6

Enzymes for optimal water temperature can be divided into two areas :

  1. Laundry & dish-washing. Enzymes added to detergents substitute for surfactants and enable washing at lower temperatures
  2. Enzymatic bleach clean-up is used in the textile industry and uses less water and chemicals.

Low-Carbon Feedback7

More effcient processes make increased resources (income, for consumers or suppliers) available. This has a dynamic impact. If such increased resources are invested in activities that further decrease GHG emissions, low-carbon feedback can be achieved. Such investments include process effciency, energy effciency, or renewable energy projects.

Improvements in the food industry and in other industries that use agricultural
products as feedstock (e.g., pulp and paper, leather production, textiles production) enable use of less land to deliver the same benefits. Thus, additional land becomes available, potentially for other bio-based applications that enable reductions in GHG emissions.

The production of biofuel can lead to some important low-carbon feedback
mechanisms in the future, as bioethanol know-how and resources
have paved the way for the development of bio-refinery technology, and which has created the technological foundations for replacing oil-based materials with bio-based materials.

High Carbon Feedback8

If resources are spent on products or activities that result in investments in infrastructure and processes that generate GHG emissions and where increased use of these products result in further investments in similar structures, that result in even more emissions, there is high-carbon feedback.

Some current biotechnology applications reduce emissions but also lead to a significant degree of high-carbon feedback. These reductions are valuable and needed in the short term but risk binding us to future emissions
if we don’t pursue further transformation of the economic infrastructure.

Without the right policy context, biotech solutions might lead to increased emissions and/or lock us into an infrastructure dependant on liquid hydrocarbons. Biotech solutions involving biofuels in particular may contribute to situations where short-term benefits are eroded by rebound effects and perverse incentives that lead to greater long-term emissions.

The Potential for Biomimicry for Optimal Water Temperature

If industrial biotechnology applications in traditional industries were to reach 100% market penetration during the 2010–2030 period, GHG emission reductions would go from about 15 MtCO2e in 2010 to about 65 MtCO2e by 2030.9

For household appliances, the use-phase accounts for more than 80 percent of the environmental impact.10 Washing machines are a major consumer of residential electricity; heating the water accounts for four-fifths of the power used for laundry. Water heating accounts for about 19% of total home energy use in the UK.11 The average British family does 274 loads a year and emits about 130kg of CO2 in the process.12

By washing at 30 rather than 60 or 40 degrees, the CO2 savings potential
in Europe and the US is around 32 million tonnes – equivalent to the emission of 8 million cars.13

With enzymatic bleach clean the GHG benefit per unit of output: 400 kg CO2 per ton fabric or yarn. The reduction comes from less energy used to source and heat water.

Understanding Low- and High-Carbon Feedback

GHG emission pathways with Biotech                             High-carbon feedback is a situation that encourages new applications, behavior, and institutional structures that result in increased CO2 emissions. Some biotech applications may lead to higher emissions over the long-term, even if they contribute toward reduced short-term CO2 emissions. Low-carbon feedback is the opposite situation: a biotech application encourages new services, behavior, and institutional structures that result in reduced CO2 emissions over the long-term.

Other solutions that are based on more effcient ways to provide more effcient heating are provided by companies like Osaka Gas. Through the use of high-effciency equipment and systems, such as cogeneration systems, gas air conditioners, and high-performance industrial furnaces, they reduced CO2 emissions from corporate customers by about 2.33 million tons in fiscal 2009 (against the fiscal 1999 base year).14

Other technologies can also be combined with biomimicry for optimal
water temperature. Water-free washing is one example. Converting from conventional laundry systems to these new systems will save 90 percent of the fresh water associated with washing. For U.S. domestic laundry this translates into 1.2 billion tonnes of water saved per year, equivalent to 17 million swimming pools. These new solutions reduce carbon foot print impact as well – up to 40 percent savings when the reduction in tumble drying is included. This calculation also includes the environmental cost of the water-free laundry nylon beads which will be recycled, not thrown away. Put another way, if all U.S. homes converted to such a cleaning system, the reduction in CO2 would be more than 10 million tonnes, equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road.15 These solutions must also address high- and low-carbon feedback.

Support for Accelerated Uptake of Biomimicry for Optimal Water Temperature with Low-Carbon Feedback

The net GHG impact of industrial biotechnologies will be strongly influenced by the overall socio-economic environment and the policy landscape surrounding the dissemination of these technologies. For industrial biotechnologies to deliver their full GHG emission reduction potential it is therefore of paramount importance that strong public policies and private sector strategies are in place to channel the sector’s growth toward lowcarbon paths, while reducing the risk of high-carbon lock-in.

Solution Providers

  • Scope existing markets to identify areas where higher GHG emission reductions can be achieved with existing or emerging industrial biotechnology applications.
  • Develop standards and tools to be deployed systematically across the industry and to document the GHG impacts of specific industrial biotechnology solutions.
  • Work with customers and suppliers to develop funding instruments for low-carbon solutions.
  • Pursue R&D and market investment in bio-based materials following ‘Designed for the Environment’ approaches (thus including solutions to ‘close the loop’)
  • Work with policy makers to develop policies that support the progression toward large-scale bio-based materials and closed loops systems
  • Support the development and implementation of public policies that address the risk of unsustainable land use practices being associated with the production of industrial biotechnology feedstock.16

Policy Makers

  • Policy makers could set targets for washing machines and detergents to cut carbon emissions from clothes washing by 80 percent in five to ten years.
  • Anticipate and nurture the progression toward large-scale bio materials and closed loops systems.


  • Makers of washing machines and detergents should agree to cut carbon emissions from laundry by 80 percent in five to ten years.

Sustainable Synergies

Industrial biotechnology can enable a shift to a bio-based economy, i.e., an economy based on production paradigms that rely on biological processes and, as natural ecosystems, use natural inputs, expend minimum amounts of energy and do not produce any waste, as the materials discarded by one process are inputs for another and are reused in the ecosystem.17

  • The deployment of biotechnology solutions must not represent a dangerous threat for human health.
  • The deployment of biotechnology must not be associated with unacceptable risks of invasive species invading natural ecosystems.
  • The deployment of biotechnology solutions must not lead to changes in land use that damage sensitive natural ecosystem.
  • The deployment of biotechnology solutions must not lead to changes in land use that crowd out food production and result in endangering the subsistence of human communities.18

References :

  3. GHG Emission Reductions with an Industrial Biotechnology, Assesing the Opportunities, WWF-Novozymes, 2009.
  9. GHG Emission Reductions with an Industrial Biotechnology, Assesing the Opportunities, WWF-Novozymes, 2009.
  12. lowtempwashing.shtml
  16. GHG Emission Reductions with an Industrial Biotechnology, Assesing the Opportunities, WWF-Novozymes, 2009.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.