UNITED KINGDOM – AstraZeneca, a prominent pharmaceutical company, is breaking new ground by applying its biomanufacturing expertise to enhance renewable energy efforts, as reported by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

The company has strategically partnered with Vanguard Renewables to optimize the extraction of energy from agricultural waste, particularly aiming to make renewable natural gas (RNG) as cost-effective as its fossil fuel counterpart.

While renewable energy and biopharmaceutical manufacturing might seem unrelated, AstraZeneca recognizes a valuable connection between them.

The collaboration with Vanguard Renewables signifies a bold ambition to significantly increase productivity in RNG production.

Andy Wirths, Senior Vice President of Supply–Americas at AstraZeneca, emphasizes the goal of achieving a multiple-fold increase in productivity, signaling a commitment to advancing renewable energy solutions.

Vanguard Renewables specializes in collecting food waste and processed goods like expired products and scraps from various sources, combining these organic materials with cow manure in anaerobic digesters located on farms.

Farmers benefit by leasing part of their land to Vanguard, not only gaining extra income but also improving manure management, reducing phosphorus runoff, and receiving a liquid, low-carbon fertilizer that minimizes the need for chemical fertilizers.

The anaerobic digestion process addresses environmental concerns associated with manure storage, as it generates renewable natural gas from methane, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

This dual-purpose approach alleviates manure management issues for farmers and contributes to the availability of renewable energy sources.

AstraZeneca aims to transfer its expertise in bioreactor yield enhancements to enhance the efficiency of Vanguard Renewables’ anaerobic digesters.

The optimization involves refining chemistry and process controls. The pharmaceutical giant also prioritizes the development of digital twins for the anaerobic digestion process, allowing faster modeling of changes and potentially incorporating artificial intelligence in the future.

Furthermore, the company emphasizes the importance of enhancing supply chain robustness. Real-time supply chain information could support dynamic resource allocation within Vanguard’s network of farms and organic suppliers, optimizing the RNG production process.

Andy Wirths rejects the notion of distraction from core business activities, stating that AstraZeneca’s goal to increase RNG production efficiency aligns with its core expertise.

Importantly, he emphasizes the moral imperative for the healthcare sector to reduce emissions and contribute to addressing the climate crisis, emphasizing that the healthcare sector itself is a significant contributor to global emissions.

Wirths underscores the urgency of the climate crisis, labeling it as the largest health crisis of our time. He cites a 2019 report attributing nearly 5% of all global emissions to the healthcare sector, highlighting the need for the sector to decarbonize.

AstraZeneca’s collaboration with Vanguard Renewables is positioned as an investment in the future, aligning with the company’s broader commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2045 and halving emissions from 2015 levels across its value chain by 2030.

In essence, AstraZeneca sees this initiative as a strategic move to drive deep decarbonization both within the company and across the biopharmaceutical industry.

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