Overcoming hurdles for innovation in industrial biotechnology in Europe UK & Ireland Workshop Report

Overcoming hurdles for innovation in industrial biotechnology in Europe UK & Ireland Workshop Report

Main topic: Regional profiles
Document / search engine: Overcoming hurdles for innovation in industrial biotechnology in Europe UK & Ireland Workshop Report
Framework project: The Industrial Biotech Research and Innovation Platforms Centre - towards Technological Innovation and solid foundations for a growing industrial biotech sector in Europe
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Website link: http://industrialbiotech-europe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/UKIRL-Workshop-Report.pdf
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The sixth BIO-TIC regional workshop was held at the BIS Conference Centre, London, UK on 19th November 2013 and brought together 25 participants to discuss the potential for IB, to identify hurdles and enablers, and to suggest novel mechanisms by which IB uptake could be facilitated in the UK and Ireland. The UK is one of the leading countries within Europe for IB. IB has been a focus area in the UK for several years and benefits from a high profile and high levels of funding and investment. The strong strategic and industrial focus on IB in the UK is complemented by first class scale-up facilities and academic research. Research into plant breeding and enzymes for breaking down biomass to component parts is a particular strength. However, despite its relatively well-developed nature however, the IB sector in the UK still faces many challenges. There is a lack of human resources with the right skills and curricula to address current challenges within the UK IB industry. In particular, there is currently a lack of chemical engineering graduates working in IB; tapping into this expertise could help address bioconversion issues (including helping to improve the performance and resistance of biocatalysts and micro-organisms), develop novel separation technologies and techniques and predict the results of up-scaling of lab successes. In the UK, as for many other countries, biofuels benefit from considerable public attention, subsidies and fostering legislation but IB products do not, leading to high product prices. This is compounded by customer reluctance to pay a premium for IB products, especially where consumers do not see the benefits offered by IB products. Feedstock availability is another 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. The efficiency, transport and logistics associated with biomass use all need to be improved, particularly in the waste sector. While the market will drive the availability of feedstock, a significant reduction in feedstock cost compared to today’s prices is unlikely. A range of potential solutions to overcome these challenges were discussed within the workshop. Mechanisms to overcome the IB skill shortage in the UK included improving basic skills at school and university level (particularly in maths and physics), introducing IB apprenticeships and developing new Ph.D. and masters programmes focussed upon combining chemistry/chemical engineering disciplines with the life sciences and, in the short term, recruiting trained expertise from abroad. Feedstock availability could be facilitated by improving supply chain logistics and introducing incentives for growing crops for industrial use and using local biomass/waste. Shale gas should be encouraged so less biomass is used for energy generation and fuel, releasing biomass for IB. Investments in IB could be facilitated by the levelling of incentives for bio-based products, but any incentives should be limited in duration to around 10 years, and assessed after this period to ensure they are still needed. A range of solutions were proposed to help increase bioconversion efficiency. These included the development of a biocatalyst database, a centre of expertise to help increase the effectiveness of strain development, the improved sharing of information through public databases and a focus on continuous processing BIO-TIC – UK & Ireland workshop report 4 technologies. Research on downstream processing should focus on product recovery from dilute solutions. The IB industry should develop products with similar or improved functionalities compared to existing products rather than focussing on one to one replacements of existing products.


Countries/regions described/represented: Ireland
Year: 2014