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Industrial Biotechnology (IB) is the process of using natural resources to create new chemicals and ingredients; taking micro-organisms and enzymes to generate industrially useful products in a growing range of sectors including chemicals, food and drink, textiles and biofuels. Although processes involving fermentation (brewing) have been around for millennia, it offers one of the most promising new approaches to industrial resource conservation.

IB creates opportunities to develop new markets and accelerate existing ones while protecting the environment. In pharmaceuticals for example, IB-driven products have revolutionized our ability to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and diabetes. They now make up seven of the top ten best selling drugs globally. IB processes can even make use of the waste they produce, creating usable by-products while even generating the very energy with which to power the process itself. Biotechnology moves us away from fossil fuel intensive petrochemicals and instead uses renewable raw materials to make the same or similar products. 


Xanthella experimentation for microalgae production


The global IB market is predicted at £365 billion and with an estimated £400 million to be added to the Scottish economy alone in IB sales over the next four years, it’s no wonder the sector is a priority for the Scottish government. Since it launched the National Plan for Biotechnology in 2013 there have been several major achievements, including the launch of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC). As its CEO, I’m proud to say that we’re aiming to do something remarkable: facilitate access to the equipment, education and expertise that will grow the nascent biotechnology industry into a powerhouse of Scotland’s economy, delivering more than £1 billion a year in new added value by 2030. IBioIC’s role in the IB sector puts over 100 companies in contact with 200 academic teams, solving industrially led problems to create economic impact in Scotland and beyond, thereby playing an important key role in delivering the National Plan. The results are already apparent with an 18% increase in Scottish IB turnover to £230 million, exceeding the original 2015 target of the National Plan by £30 million.

From the beginning, our mission has been to accelerate and de-risk the development of commercially viable, sustainable solutions for high-value manufacturing in the chemistry-using and life science sectors. To that end, we also offer a Technical Network: an on-demand consultancy service that is changing the way our members qualify IB opportunities, scale projects, and most importantly accelerate research and development times. Technical Network consultants are working with our members right now on a range of tasks, from helping de-risk development programmes by providing direct technical and commercial advice; advising on precedent, to competition and position in the IP landscape. The IBioIC Technical Network is very much grounded in what we know to be the real and present challenges facing our member companies, who range from small-scale IB start-ups to multinational chemical companies.

The Technical Network is a logical complement to the equipment facilities we offer members. IBioIC has in fact invested £2.7 million in open access equipment centres. The Rapid Bioprocess Prototyping Centre (RBPC) and the Flexible Downstream Bioprocessing Centre (FlexBio) will support the £30 million research programme planned by IBioIC over the next five years, providing significant opportunities for Scotland to increase its competitiveness in the global industrial biotechnology market. IB success relies on biorefining to convert underused natural and discarded resources into valuable products – meeting the goals of the National Plan rely on developing a network of biorefineries. 

The opening of Scotland’s first biorefinery was actually by an IBioIC member company, CelluComp. The material science company produces sustainable materials from waste streams of root vegetables such as carrots and beets. Their product Curran has properties which could be used for a variety of applications from paints and coatings, paper and packaging and personal care. Another member, industrial design company Xanthella is pioneering a novel and highly energy-efficient means of producing microalgae. The microalgae produced are required by Scotland’s aquaculture industries – for hatchery use and addition to fish feeds – but can also be used for a wide range of products such as nutraceuticals, pigments, and biofuels.

Xanthella’s ASLEE project (Algal Solutions for Local Energy Economy) is exploring how its photobioreactors – which capture CO2 emissions to grow microalgae – can be powered from overspill electricity generated from local renewable sources, such as wind farms.

These are ground-breaking ideas and product which not only offer their own unique properties, but also highlights how IB is best placed to tackle one of the biggest global challenges we face today – that of maximising the use of waste. 


The immense potential of Scotland’s bioresource

Rather than just a single product, the concept of biorefining allows us to make optimal use of the feedstocks we use and as such the mix of compounds being made in our processes will contain smaller volume, high value and larger volume, lower value streams – but are we there yet?

Scotland’s compact geography is a strength that provides a centralised concentration of population and industry. The length of Scotland’s coastline, increasing forestry production and access to principally Scottish bioresources, provide a range of feedstocks for biorefining. Areas in Scotland where novel supply chains are developing include waste management, renewable energy, forestry and even food and drink – many companies in these sectors are already engaging with the bioenergy and sustainable chemicals sectors. The challenge in exploiting these strengths lies in mapping the scale and shape of the opportunity for the bioeconomy sector to embrace the Scottish Government’s desire for a more circular economy.

As a unique facility for the promotion of biological substances, systems and processes – with 100-strong membership – IBioIC is well-placed to enable delivery of the Government’s vision. Zero Waste Scotland is a Scottish organisation supporting the delivery of the Scottish Government’s circular economy strategy and the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, as such many of our objectives align. We are currently working on a bioresource mapping exercise with them which is due to be launched later this year. It analyses material waste streams such as commercial & industrial waste; agricultural residues; food & drink by-products; waste water sludges and other bioresources to map the potential of untapped bioresources in Scotland. The material waste stream is estimated to be in excess of 27 million tonnes.

We believe that this is the first time any country’s bioresources have been assessed in such a thorough way, and we expect that the volume of bioresources will confirm that there is sufficient feedstock to enable Scotland to be confident in developing opportunities for biorefining. Bringing a new concept, new infrastructure and new products to market will take time but we are well down the track of positioning Scotland as a key player in this increasingly important global industry. 



National Plan for Biotechnologywww.ibioic.com/file/Scottish%20IB%20Progress%20Report%202015.pdf

Technical Network, tinyurl.com/ycb3ol6z

Open access equipment centres, tinyurl.com/yazhmsez

Cellucomp, cellucomp.com

Xanthella, www.xanthella.co.uk

Zero Waste Scotland, www.zerowastescotland.org.uk

Making Things Last – A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotlandwww.gov.scot/Publications/2016/02/1761 

European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm




Top image: Biorefinery plant