BIO-TIC Regional Event : Industrial Biotechnology in the UK and Ireland - Identifying Challenges and Opportunities

November 19, 2013, UK and Ireland

BIO-TIC - the Industrial Biotech Research and Innovation Platforms Centre: towards technological innovation and solid foundations for a growing industrial biotech sector in Europe - is a project launched in September 2012 by the European Commission’s FP7 research program and aims to establish an overview of the barriers to biotech innovation and find solutions to overcome them.

The BIO-TIC consortium held a series of regional workshops around the EU to determine local issues surrounding the use and adoption of IB. During these workshops, participants develop a series of recommendations to overcome innovation hurdles within selected market segments that could make a major contribution to IB in the market place. For 2013 there were workshops organized in the Benelux, Poland, Spain, Italy, Nordic countries, Germany, the UK and Ireland.

The next BIO-TIC regional event is foreseen on 13 February 2014 in Paris, France. For registration please visit the BIO-TIC website: www.industrialbiotech-europe.eu/events
Below you can find a complete report on the regional workshop that was held on 19 November 2013 in the UK.

"In the UK it is recognised that Industrial Biotechnology is not an industry of itself; it is a means through which many industries can make their processes more renewable, more sustainable and more cost-effective." Colin Tattam, Chemistry Innovation KTN

IB has been a focus area in the UK for several years and benefits from a high profile and increased levels of funding and investment. The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team (IB-IGT), which operated between 2008 and 2009, was a major catalyst in developing the UK strategic framework for exploiting IB opportunities in the UK. A report from the IB-IGT was positively received by the UK Government and subsequently led to the creation of the Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum (IBLF) to help drive the UK IB industry forward. Composed of industry partners, funding bodies and other organisations, the IBLF has been able to foster even greater activity and interest in IB in the UK over recent years, with millions of pounds invested in demonstration facilities, feasibility studies and IB research in universities. In 2014, a new IB Catalyst Fund is expected to provide an additional £45 million of funding for IB.

The strong strategic and industrial focus on IB in the UK is complemented by first-class scale-up facilities and academic research.  The flagship National Industrial Biotechnology Facility (NIBF) was established as a result of one of the recommendations from the IB-IGT and aims to de-risk access to new technologies. Other impressive pilot and demonstrator facilities include CoEBio3 (the Centre of Excellence for Biocatalysis, Biotransformations and Biocatalytic Manufacture), the Biorenewables Development Centre in York and the Beacon Centre in Wales. These are further complemented at the university level with the N8 group of northern universities amongst a wealth of other UK academic establishments with IB expertise.

Despite its relatively well-developed nature, however, the IB sector in the UK still faces many challenges and these were examined and discussed in the workshop.

The lack of human resources with the right skills and curricula was highlighted as the biggest challenge for the development of IB in the UK.  While there are a large number of good graduates in the UK and throughout Europe, tapping into chemical engineering expertise could significantly help develop IB; for instance, through the development of novel separation technologies and techniques.
 
The second biggest hurdle for the successful implementation of IB is the lack of incentives for bio-based products. Biofuels benefit from considerable public attention, subsidies and fostering legislation but they are not the only bio-based products worth encouraging.
Finally, technical issues associated with bioconversion were identified as the third key challenge during the UK workshop. The results associated with the up-scaling of laboratory successes are not always obvious, whilst the performance of biocatalysts and micro-organisms also needs to be improved.

"We have created an environment in the UK to catalyse and accelerate the innovation, commercialisation and growth potential of IB; our ambition is to realise a market of £12 billion by 2025." Colin Tattam Chemistry Innovation KTN

The UK is one of the leading countries within Europe for IB and, as a result, UK stakeholders can provide an excellent insight into the hurdles faced by companies in a supportive and leading environment.  However, IB is at different stages of development across Europe and consequently the barriers and enablers to IB may vary significantly in different countries. In order to capture these different regional hurdles and enablers, the BIO-TIC consortium has organised eight workshops across Europe aiming to identify the issues particular to each region or country. These workshops have brought together, amongst others, government, industry, academia, regional agencies and venture capitalists, and have provided a rich dataset to underpin the project.

The results from the regional workshops will feed into the development of a series of roadmaps outlining market development for IB products to 2030, highlighting the technical and the non-technical issues associated with several product groups of particular interest for Europe. These product groups are advanced biofuels, biopolymers, bio-derived chemical building blocks, bio-surfactants and the use of IB processes to convert CO2 from burning coal to marketable renewable products. The BIO-TIC consortium is currently organising a series of events for 2014 to investigate issues surrounding the hurdles and possible solutions to the development of these product groups in more detail.  More information on the dates for these workshops will be available via the BIO-TIC website at http://www.industrialbiotech-europe.eu/.

An overview of hurdles identified during the regional workshops in the Benelux and Poland is as follows:

Hurdles in the Benelux
• hurdles related to feedstock supply and price;
• the prohibitive price of enzymes;
• poor yields (of both biomass and conversion processes);
• the need to scale up from batch to continuous processing modes to more market-based issues, such as a lack of investment to promote R&D;
• pilot and demonstration activities and the costs associated with IP protection, especially for SMEs;
• complicated regulations over the use of some materials: e.g. wastes and new technologies.

Suggested solutions
• financial support for farmers;
• decreasing tariffs for imported biomass;
• introducing tax exemptions for bio-based products;
• bio-based productions should be included within the RED alongside fuels, in order to create a level playing field for incentives;
• biomass yields should be improved;
• waste regulations should be simplified for the use in bio-based products;
• the principal of the cascading use of biomass should be more widely adopted;
• increasing the visibility of IB through the exchange of best practice;
• promoting cooperation;
• developing networks and demonstrating viable business opportunities;
• improving the visibility of IB will also help to raise funds for R&D pilot and demo activities, whilst new business models, where the return on investment can be 5 years or more, would help support the industry.

Hurdles in Poland
• the relationship between academia and industry: cooperation between universities, both inside and outside of Poland, is good, but there is a lack of collaboration between the universities and industry in the region as a whole;
• improved mechanisms to link industry and research are needed, including a new framework for the cooperation of academia with industry.

Suggested solutions
• tax incentives should be developed to stimulate the market; research projects could then be developed to align with a clear industrial need.
• there are recognised areas of IB expertise that can act as clusters for further developments, and government support is potentially available to help cover the cost of the necessary facilities, especially in Special Economic Zones, where exemption from corporate income tax is granted.

Claire Gray and Ioana Popescu, EuropaBio.