Industrial biotechnology (IB) – the use of biological substances, systems and processes to produce material, chemicals and energy – is expected to play a vital role in the creation of a new low carbon economy in the UK.
According to a Government funded report “IB 2025 – Maximising UK Opportunities from Industrial Biotechnology in a Low Carbon Economy”, the IB market could be worth up to £12bn to UK businesses by 2025. The UK already has a thriving research and development sector for IB and there are five major pilot facilities spread across the UK, offering expertise in scale-up and commercialisation of processes.
In the North East of England, the National Industrial Biotechnologies Facility at the Centre for Process Industries (CPI) offers process expertise and fermenters from 20 to 10,000 litres scale. These can be used by companies to ensure processes work robustly and cost-effectively on a large-scale.
Further South in Yorkshire there is the Biorenewable Development Centre (BDC) in York, which opened in 2012. Facilities at the BDC are open-access and arranged in modules allowing flexibility in the design of processes. Facilities include a 30kg/hour microwave pyrolysis unit, 42 litre fermenter and 10 litre supercritical carbon dioxide extraction system.
In the Midlands, the Food and Biofuel Innovation Centre (FBIC) at The University of Nottingham conducts research on brewing, food processing and bioenergy production. Brewers SABMiller are partners in the project and have developed a 1000 litre pilot scale brewery within the centre.
Further East, Norwich Research Park (NRP) is home to the Institute of Food Research Biorefinery Centre, which contains a steam explosion pilot plant. The pilot plant can be used to convert lignocellulosic biomass into next generation biofuels and chemicals using a thermal/hydrolysis process which operates at up to 230°C.
In Wales, the Beacon Centre is a focal point for IB research. Beacon is a collaboration between Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea Universities. Aberystwyth boasts a plug and play, multi-feedstock pilot processing plant. While Bangor hosts a pressurised refining and pilot scale facility coupled with supercritical fluid and chemical/ analytical support.
Together these facilities are making the UK an attractive place for industrial biotechnology companies to do business.
This article first appeared in the NNFCC Newsletter 27 Summer 2013 Industrial Biotechnology Special Issue.
Source: NNFCC, press release, 2013-07-02.