Driving innovation in Industrial Biotechnology and Engineering Biology

In this article, Dana Heldt, Knowledge Transfer Manager – Synthetic Biology, introduces the Sustainable bio-based materials and manufacture (SusBioMM) programme and explores the role Industrial Biotechnology and Engineering Biology can play in helping us move towards producing our chemicals and materials from alternative, sustainable feedstocks.

Posted on: 10/08/2023

Not one day passes without climate change being mentioned in the news. Soaring temperatures in Europe and increasing numbers of wildfires across the world have a devastating impact on all life. We need to cut carbon emissions, reduce our carbon footprint and develop low-carbon products and processes to put climate change on hold, whilst coping with the increasing demand of a growing world population.

There are already many investment and policy measures in place to help us move away from burning virgin fossil carbon to satisfy our energy demands; I want to focus on the need to move away from virgin fossil carbon as the feedstock for the production of chemicals and materials, as this is an area where new innovations and technologies are urgently required.

Industrial Biotechnology (IB) and Engineering Biology (EB) can play a key role in helping us move towards a future where we can produce our chemicals and materials from alternative, sustainable feedstocks. Dr Stephen Wallace (Edinburgh University) provides some fantastic case studies in this TedTalk highlighting how engineering biology can help us tackle climate change, for example in the bio-production of nylon precursors from plant biomass and paper waste, or the production of vanilla flavouring from plastic waste.

In the past 3 years we have been shining a light on the EB and IB opportunity through our role in the Bioeconomy Cluster Builder (BCB) project. This 3-year, ERDF-funded collaboration between the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), Innovate UK KTN and Scottish Enterprise was launched to support the growth of the bioeconomy in Scotland. The project delivered 31 targeted events to a combined audience of over 2,250 attendees from across the IB community, but also importantly non-bio sectors. We were able to showcase what IB can deliver, share knowledge, and provide examples of how IB is used for real world challenges. This also enabled crucial 1:1 connection to establish collaborations and drive innovation, as well as providing funding advice and connecting to investors. Most of the events have been recorded and can be watched on the BCB webpage.

My personal highlight was the public engagement event in Glasgow Queen Street station, where BCB showcased day to day products made using Industrial Biotechnology, ranging from sustainable dyes, natural insulation materials to textiles made from protein, and the use of onion skin and spent coffee beans for packaging materials and cups. This reflects the diversity of IB solutions and illustrates how they can be adopted for a sustainable future world.

Let’s be honest, we need the buy-in from the public when it comes to sustainable, low greenhouse gas emission (GHG) consumer products. Implementing change and new products isn’t easy, especially in times of increased cost of living. The greatest challenge for the consumer is that we want our familiar products with the same properties at an affordable price. This event gave the general public awareness of sustainable products that utilise IB, and the feedback suggested that there is an ever-increasing demand for such products in our day-to-day life.

What’s next?

The UK has the potential to become a world-class destination for advanced low-carbon manufacturing. The challenges and opportunities that come with this have been outlined in the Material and Manufacturing 2050 vision, and excitingly Innovate UK has two active programmes that will help accelerate aspects of the Vision: Resource Efficiency for Materials and Manufacturing (REforMM) and Sustainable Bio-based Materials and Manufacturing (SusBioMM). The community will have seen a few funding calls delivered under these programmes over the last few months, awarding over £20 millions of grant funding to innovators across the Materials, Manufacturing, Chemistry and IB community.

My colleagues at Innovate UK and I and have designed a range of stakeholder engagement activities under these programmes that will create impact beyond the grant funding and to help inform future funding opportunities.

Under the SusBioMM programme, we are currently gathering data and knowledge from sector experts to understand what information addressing bio-manufacturing/biomaterials is already available (reports, projects etc), who are the key stakeholders as well as identifying any knowledge gaps which we can help bridge. Please keep an eye out for our in person events, webinars and roundtable discussions by signing up to the Chem/IB newsletter and following us on Twitter and LinkedIn. We will also highlight innovators active in this field through podcast, articles, and interviews. Please reach out if you would like to know more and be involved.

IBioIC and Innovate UK KTN recognise the value of BCB and we will continue our partnership, collaborating through the SusBioMM programme. We will explore opportunities for bio-based materials and manufacturing in chemicals, food & drink and textiles & materials.

Our next stakeholder engagement event, which includes networking opportunity, will take place on 14th September. You can sign up to the ‘Net Zero Chemical Manufacturing – Unlocking the power of biotechnology to transform the UK chemicals industry’ webinar here.

Call for Open Innovation Challenges

None of us has the full solution for moving to a sustainable bio-based future for materials and manufacturing, but we each can provide a piece to the puzzle. We are especially interested to work with companies in the materials and manufacturing supply chain who have specific technical challenges and need support identifying the right solution provider(s). Our cross-sector Open Innovation programme supports innovation transfer by matching industry challenges to innovative companies and academics, often from other sectors, enabling faster development of novel solutions. Please get in touch to discuss this opportunity.

Related programmes

Sustainable bio-based Materials and Manufacture (SusBioMM)

Sustainable bio-based Materials and Manufacture (SusBioMM)

The sustainable bio-based materials and manufacture (SusBioMM) programme seeks to address the challenge of developing innovations in sustainable and scalable biomanufacturing processes.

Resource Efficiency for Materials and Manufacturing (REforMM)

Resource Efficiency for Materials and Manufacturing (REforMM)

The programme aims for the UK to be a leader in resource efficiency with organisations understanding the environmental, social and economic impact of the full lifecycle and thriving from adoption of resource efficient solutions which are fundamental to UK and global Net Zero ambitions.


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