Industrial Biotechnology Report Launched in Sheffield

A new analysis of the current state and future direction of UK Industrial Biotechnology (IB) was launched at the University of Sheffield. The report, Developing a Strategy for Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in the UK, sets out a series of recommendations designed to make the UK a world leader in IB and create a more sustainable and prosperous economy.

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. 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.

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

At the launch, representatives from multinationals (Akzo Nobel, BASF, GSK, AstroZeneca and Unilever), SMEs, academics from 15 universities and civil servants from BEIS met to consider the report’s findings and formulate the actions needed to ensure a bright future for UK IB. Recognizing 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.

“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. But rather worryingly, IB was not prominent in the recent Industrial Strategy Green Paper with no acknowledgment of what it is, what it does, or what its future contribution to the UK economy and society might be.”

Professor Jeff Green, Director of CBMNet

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.”

Prof Dave Petley, Vice President (Research and Innovation), University of Sheffield

Report recommendations:

Read the full report

BBRSC Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has funded 13 unique collaborative Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (BBSRC NIBB) to boost interaction between the academic research base and industry, promoting the translation of research into benefits for the UK. The networks pool skills from academia and business to develop research projects with the potential to overcome major challenges in the industrial biotechnology and bioenergy arena. They also allow new members to come on board with skills that can benefit the group.

The four NIBB who commissioned the report were CBMNet (Lead), BIOCATNET, P2P, C1Net:


A network to engineer the cell-environment interface to improve process efficiency, the ‘Crossing biological membranes’ Network is led by Professor Jeff Green, University of Sheffield and Professor Gavin Thomas, University of York. Our primary focus is to understand the mechanisms by which substances are transported into, within, and out of microbial cell factories, with the goal of developing enabling technologies that are crucial for the future of almost all cell-based industrial biotechnology applications. We are a vibrant community of over 1250 academics and industrialists, working together to develop environmentally sustainable, economically viable bioprocesses, for the production of bio-based molecules required by society for everyday life.


BIOCATNET is the BBSRC NIBB dedicated to discovery, development and scalable production of biocatalysts for the whole Industrial Biotechnology community. We provide a cross-sector forum with the goals to foster and enhance collaboration; develop skills and expertise; share best practice; define common research priorities; and target funding opportunities in industrial biocatalysis. By bringing together key research expertise from the academic and industrial sectors, along with manufacturers and end-users, BIOCATNET will address key challenges to help shape the future of Industrial Biotechnology in the UK and beyond.


A Network of Integrated Technologies: Plants to Products (P2P) is led by Professor David Leak, University of Bath and Dr Joe Gallagher, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS). P2P is one of the thirteen BBSRC supported Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (NIBB) and one of two supported by the EPSRC. Our primary focus is integration – of people, technology and expertise – to deliver integrated processes for efficient and economic conversion of plant biomass to products. We are committed to supporting and growing the industrial biotechnology community and maximising the value it delivers.


C1net champions research into the use of “gas-eating” microbes to ferment polluting greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane) from landfill and industry, into useful products e.g. biofuels and plastics. There has been a global surge of interest in studying the biology of organisms able to grow on C1 gases and commercially exploit them as platforms for chemical manufacture. The UK, however, lags disappointingly behind the curve. C1net aims to correct this deficiency by creating a vibrant community of UK scientists using a programme of measures to increase public understanding, recruit and train young scientists and encourage interaction between science and industry. The aim is to unravel the biological, chemical and process engineering aspects of gas fermentation and steer the translational outputs towards commercial application.

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