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Developing a UK strategy for industrial biotechnology and bioenergy

Posted on 31/10/2017

A new report provides an analysis of the current state and future direction of Industrial Biotechnology in the UK.

A new report into the future of UK Industrial Biotechnology will be launched at the University of Sheffield today (31 October 2017).

The Industrial Biotechnology Landscape Report: UK Industrial Biotechnology Framework and Strategy sets out a series of recommendations designed to make the UK a world leader in Industrial Biotechnology and create a more sustainable and prosperous economy.

Industrial Biotechnology (IB) is the use of biological resources to manufacture materials, chemicals and energy. Commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the need to move towards a greener chemicals industry that is less dependent on fossil fuels are just two of the major challenges that IB can help resolve.

The new report assesses the importance of IB for the UK economy, provides a critical analysis of IB in the UK relative to competitor countries and identifies the opportunities and threats to the sector to produce evidence-based recommendations designed to strengthen the UK’s IB position.

A major recommendation is the need for a credible long-term sector deal to support IB as part of the Industrial Strategy policy.

Jeff Green, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Sheffield and Director of Crossing Biological Membranes Network (CBMNet) – one of four networks to commission the report, said: “To keep pace with international competitors, the government needs to make clear its long-term commitment to industrial biotechnology. 

“An encouraging signal would be to bring back the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst fund that invested in translating the knowledge generated by the UK’s academic research base and SMEs into new IB processes.”

At present IB companies employ 14,000 people in the UK, contributing £1.2bn in Gross Value Added to the economy, but it is estimated that the value of the global IB market could reach £360bn by 2025.  To have a sustainable future the UK must take its place amongst the world’s leaders in this growing sector of the economy.

Representatives from multinational companies (Akzo Nobel, BASF, GSK, AstroZeneca and Unilever), SMEs, academics from 15 universities and civil servants from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy  (BEIS) met to consider the report’s findings and formulate the actions needed to ensure a bright future for UK IB.

Recognising the constraints imposed by feedstock availability, a focus on high-value products and a regional approach to modular manufacturing were amongst the recommendations discussed as a stepping stones towards a future sustainable circular economy based on IB.

Professor Dave Petley, Vice-President for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield underlined the role he believes the academic community has to play in the IB sector: “The University of Sheffield has a strong history of and commitment to collaboration. We have many examples of successful collaboration with industry partners such as Unilever, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Siemens, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

“This event has brought together key players in IB who, like the University of Sheffield, are committed to using the Industrial Biotechnology Landscape report to influence policy and future funding allocations relating to bioscience and biotechnology.  Through this commitment to collaborate we will deliver impact, through influencing policy, and making the UK’s Bioeconomy one that plays a significant role in the UK’s economic success.”

The IB Landscape report was commissioned by four Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (NIBB) and completed by economics consultants RSM.

You can read the full Industrial Biotechnology (IB) Landscape Report: UK Industrial Biotechnology Framework and Strategy Report here.