What Is Wrong With The Concept “Bio”? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.)
Today and tomorrow I am attending to an encounter of business representatives from companies presenting their projects related with the sectors of Biotechnology, Agri-food sector and Biomass.
So far, it has taken my attention how easy it can be overused the prefix “Bio” to compose vocabulary which seems to be, by itself, self explanatory thanks to this incorporation.
And there is a question which raises from such commodity. For some people, the concept of Bio is misinterpreted as innocuous.
Just because your raw material comes from biological origin, it does not make the treatments applied to obtain by-products of market values (either compounds or energy) less innocuous for the environment. Just because a product comes from a biological process does not make it innocuous for the environment. And similarly, just because the process followed to treat the raw material to obtain a by-product of market interest is based on a biological transformation, it does not make it free from consuming resources and originate residuals with specific management requirements before they become innocuous for the environment.
Bio-products, bio-processing or bio-technology does not release the pressure from Land Use and Cover, water consumption and energetic demands, or dissipate the problems with chemically active waste compounds (gass, solid or liquid) as well as toxicity due to concentration, etc.
The innocuousness of any product, any process of transformation, decomposition or composition, extraction, purification, manipulation, storing or transportation … is defined by the control exerted over the potential sources of interaction which might be being generated at any stage with the conditions and composition of the environment in which they take place.
Bio does not always mean innocuous or beneficial for the environment if it does not allow the same environment to regenerate what it has been consumed.
WE can not forget that any transformation interfering with the development of regeneration exerts a type of pressure over the environment. That interferes with the capacity of this environment to keep healthy its mechanisms of resilience, witch are involved also with the climatic developments under their influence.
Just one example of conceptual misuse of Bio.
Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. A turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy. Then a generator converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy. Since the raw material used is an innocuous Bioproduct which does not change its chemical and physical properties through the production and disposal process, this technology could be considered BioTechnology. And yet, this technology is anything but innocuous for the environment.
The most common type of hydroelectric power plant is an impoundment facility. An impoundment facility, typically a large hydropower system, uses a dam to store river water in a reservoir. Here I share just some of the implications that this technology has for the environment. (for more see category Inland Water Bodies and Water Cycle)
The size of the reservoir created by a hydroelectric project can vary widely, depending largely on the size of the hydroelectric generators and the topography of the land. Hydroelectric plants in flat areas tend to require much more land than those in hilly areas or canyons where deeper reservoirs can hold more volume of water in a smaller space.
At one extreme, the large Balbina hydroelectric plant, which was built in a flat area of Brazil, flooded 2,360 square kilometers—an area the size of Delaware—and it only provides 250 MW of power generating capacity (equal to more than 2,000 acres per MW) . In contrast, a small 10 MW run-of-the-rive plant in a hilly location can use as little 2.5 acres (equal to a quarter of an acre per MW) .
Flooding land for a hydroelectric reservoir has an extreme environmental impact: it destroys forest, wildlife habitat, agricultural land, and scenic lands. In many instances, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China, entire communities have also had to be relocated to make way for reservoirs .
Dammed reservoirs are used for multiple purposes, such as agricultural irrigation, flood control, and recreation, so not all wildlife impacts associated with dams can be directly attributed to hydroelectric power. However, hydroelectric facilities can still have a major impact on aquatic ecosystems. For example, though there are a variety of methods to minimize the impact (including fish ladders and in-take screens), fish and other organisms can be injured and killed by turbine blades.
Apart from direct contact, there can also be wildlife impacts both within the dammed reservoirs and downstream from the facility. Reservoir water is usually more stagnant than normal river water. As a result, the reservoir will have higher than normal amounts of sediments and nutrients, which can cultivate an excess of algae and other aquatic weeds. These weeds can crowd out other river animal and plant-life, and they must be controlled through manual harvesting or by introducing fish that eat these plants . In addition, water is lost through evaporation in dammed reservoirs at a much higher rate than in flowing rivers.
In addition, if too much water is stored behind the reservoir, segments of the river downstream from the reservoir can dry out. Thus, most hydroelectric operators are required to release a minimum amount of water at certain times of year. If not released appropriately, water levels downstream will drop and animal and plant life can be harmed. In addition, reservoir water is typically low in dissolved oxygen and colder than normal river water. When this water is released, it could have negative impacts on downstream plants and animals. To mitigate these impacts, aerating turbines can be installed to increase dissolved oxygen and multi-level water intakes can help ensure that water released from the reservoir comes from all levels of the reservoir, rather than just the bottom (which is the coldest and has the lowest dissolved oxygen).
Like many things we do, eat or get in contact with in our life, is not about absolute good or absolute bad. There are good practices and bad practices. The right thing in the wrong place generates conflicts as well as the opposite. Normally the main question is not what but instead how, how much and for how long.