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There is no overall national industrial biotechnology policy, but UK Government recognises the huge potential for this sector, principally as a result of the work of the Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum (IBLF), an industry led and Government sponsored initiate to drive the bioeconomy in the UK.
Who is there?
According the UK Government Report Strength and Opportunity there were 121 Industrial Biotechnology companies in the UK in 2013, generating an annual turnover of £600M. The sector grew by 5% in the period 2008-2013. Most of the UK IB companies are SMEs, working in biofuels, food and drink and speciality sectors (principally enzyme production).
- The Industrial Biotechnology Special Interest Group (IBSIG) is funded by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills via the Innovate UK and its activities are managed by the Knowledge Transfer Network. The IBSIG helps input into national strategy and funding programmes via the IBLF and Suschem, helps consortia building and facilitating collaborative funding streams.
- The British Association of Biobased and Biodegradable Chemicals (BABBC) was formed in early 2015 to raise the profile of a wide range of bioplastics and green chemicals, such as glues, lubricants and soaps.
Other Industrial Biotechnology relevant Associations and Networks
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council set up in 2012/2013, 13 networks in industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy known NIBBs. In total, they received funding of £18m in late 2013. The aim of these NIBBs is to develop research projects with the potential to overcome major challenges in the industrial biotechnology and bioenergy arena. For more information click here.
The Knowledge Transfer Network is the principal route for industry networking and events in industrial biotechnology, but the following associations also have some interest in some areas of industrial biotechnology:
Examples to watch
The UK benefits from a particularly innovative IB community, many of which have spun out from the UK’s world class universities. Many are SME’s and early stage start-ups with significant potential for the future. While far from exhaustive, the following companies represent the strength of the UK IB industry.
- Green Biologics use microbial engineering and synthetic biology tools develop a robust library of Clostridium microbial strains which are used as biocatalysts for advanced fermentation processes. n-Butanol and acetone are their first platform products and they are currently developing future C3 and C4 chemicals and derivatives using the Clostridium platform.
- Biome is a high performance bioplastics producer, and is currently investigating the potential for creating bioplastics from organic food waste and developing chemicals derived from microbial breakdown of lignin.
- Ingenza uses synthetic biology for the manufacture of industrial products including enhanced biofuels, sustainable manufacturing of chemicals and the production of protein therapeutics.
In recent years, the UK has invested heavily in an appropriate infrastructure for scale up and demonstration in the industrial biotechnology area.
The National Industrial Biotechnology Facility is an open access facility, based at the Centre for Process Innovation on Teesside, which has upstream biomass processing, up to 10,000-litre fermentation capacity (pilot and demonstration scale) and enhanced downstream processing capabilities.
The Biorenewables Development Centre is based in York, and offers feedstock development & molecular analysis, processing & pre-processing, microbiology and anaerobic digestion capabilities. The BDC develops methods at laboratory scale but, importantly, can also scale up processes to demonstrate their commercial potential. All facilities are modular, allowing flexibility in design of processes. BDC is an open access facility; meaning that any qualified clients or academics may use our equipment for testing and research
The document ‘Navigating the IB Landscape in the UK’ provides a good summary of funding for IB projects in the UK.
Funding for academic research is provided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Funding for more applied, nearer to market research and development projects is provided through Innovate UK.
High Value Chemicals through Industrial Biotechnology (HVC-IB) funding from Innovate UK supports innovation projects from feasibility to demonstration. Around £2 M per year is available.
Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst Fund was set up in January 2014 to support UK researchers and companies to work together to bring their biotechnology innovations to market and to help cement the UK’s position as a world leader in this sector. It is funded by Innovate UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The first call was for £45M in 2014, followed by a second call for £40M in 2015. Total project sizes can range from up to £250k for feasibility studies to up to £10M for experimental development. For more details see here.
- Strong points: The UK has the 6th largest chemical industry in the world so there is a strong capability both in developing processes and for downstream applications. This is coupled to a strong academic base in IB. IB has been a focus area in the UK for several years, with a high profile and high levels of funding and investment. The UK has first class scale-up facilities and academic research.
- Weak points: There are no dedicated policies promoting IB in the UK, and, with the exception of biofuels, there are no subsidies for IB products, resulting in high product prices. Feedstock availability is particular concern in the UK, and there are conflicting views on whether the UK produces enough materials, particularly wastes and residues to fulfil different IB market needs. There is currently a lack of human resources with the right skills and curricula to address current challenges within the UK IB industry although this particular challenge is being addressed through the Science Industry Partnership Skills Training Programme (see below).
In 2011, Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board) and Innovation Norway signed a Memorandum of Understanding covering the period 2011-2016, in order to develop joint projects in the IB area between UK and Norwegian companies and researchers. Information on the Memorandum of Understanding plus a comprehensive list of UK and Norwegian companies working in industrial biotechnology can be found in the document UK Norway Industrial Biotechnology and Biorefining Directory 2014.
In early 2015, The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council together with the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), will launch a joint funding call in the strategic priority area of Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE). This funding call aims to encourage new partnerships to develop integrated biorefinery approaches for the manufacture of advanced biofuels, producing industrially relevant scientific outputs which can be taken up by a global industry. Joint UK-Brazil projects of significant scale, and up to 5 years duration, will be encouraged to address challenges such as enzyme design and development, control and/or optimization feedstock attributes and the development of novel high-yielding fermentative organisms.For more information click here.
Recognising the skills gap in the industrial biotechnology sector in the UK, the Science Industry Partnership Skills Training Programme was established for the process industries £52 M investment in July 2014.
Knowledge Transfer Network, Yvonne Armitage, Industrial Biotechnology Sector Expert
Documents and links
- Report of the BIO-TIC workshop in the United Kingdom and Ireland – November 2013
- Navigating the IB Landscape in the UK
- IB 2025 Maximising UK Opportunities from Industrial Biotechnology in a Low Carbon Economy
- Sustainable Returns. Industrial Biotechnology Done Well
- Building a high value bioeconomy: opportunities from waste