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New Biotechnology Center Targets Waste

February 3, 2006

Increased exports, a cleaner environment, small-business growth – these benefits, and more, are hiding within Costa Rica’s agricultural wastes, just waiting to be unleashed, according to Science and Technology Minister Fernando Gutiérrez and other leaders. A new project unveiled this week seeks to take advantage of this untapped resource.

Thanks in part to funding from the European Union, the formation of a NationalCenter for Biotechnological Innovation (CENIBiot) is now under way. The center, which will be housed at the NationalCenter for High Technology (CENAT) in San José and overseen by the Science and Technology Ministry, will promote the economic development of the country’s agricultural sector.

Through training, funding and the sharing of new ideas, the organizers hope to help businesses improve their productivity by applying biotechnological advances such as methods for recycling waste products.

Though the 14.9 million euro ($18.1 million) project is conceived as a five-year effort, Gutiérrez said Tuesday that he expects its effects to be felt far beyond that time period – and beyond Costa Rica’s borders.

“It’s not just a project of the country, but of the region. We have a large amount of waste, and great potential throughout the whole region,” he said at the press conference following President Abel Pacheco’s weekly Cabinet meeting. “We’d like this to be a project that transcends political (administrations).”

As part of an agreement signed Dec. 6, 2005, the European Union will offer $13.25 million for the project, with the rest supplied by Costa Rica with help from the private sector, Gutiérrez said. The National Council of University Rectors (CONARE) and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Investigations will support the project, which, according to the minister, seeks to “complement, not compete with” the country’s universities and centers of investigation.

CENIBiot will conduct market studies and report on new technologies, provide resources for technical training for businesses and create a bioprocessing plant where new waste-processing techniques can be investigated.

According to a statement from the Technology Ministry, 1,000 tons of agroindustrial waste, such as wastes produced by pineapple and banana farms, will be processed as a result of the project. Pacheco and other leaders praised the new effort.

“Here, investigative genius is being wasted,” the President said. “We are burying Costa Rica with waste… that can be reused.”

Tomás Abadía, the European Union’s representative for Costa Rica congratulated the government on implementing the project and described Costa Rica as an important associate for the European Union.

“Costa Rica is our principal investment destination in Central America,” he said.

Gutiérrez added that strengthening this relationship and increasing the exchange of scientific information between Costa Rica and the Union is another goal of the biotechnology center.

Among the products that can be manufactured from processed agricultural wastes are ethanol fuel; lactic acid, which can be used in the production of biodegradable plastic; pectin, starches and specialized enzymes that can be used to clarify fruit juices.

Costa Rica has been struggling with a serious garbage problem for years.

Overflowing dumps, problems in approving new landfills and a lack of a sewage-treatment center – sewage treatment will be another topic of investigation for the center, Gutiérrez said – had municipal and national leaders scrambling for solutions last year (TT, Feb 4, July 15, 2005).

 

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