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Huge potential for industrial biotech in UK

22 March 2013

Industrial Biotechnology has the potential to become a major factor in the UK economy over the coming years, according to prominent environmentalist Jonathon Porritt.

In the Industrial Biotechnology Done Well report, put out by environmental group Forum for the Future, Porritt argues that IB has a potential for “huge” growth. Quoting work carried out by the UK government’s Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Growth Team, he claims that by 2025 IB could be contributing £150–360bn (US$240–570bn) to the world economy, £4–12bn of which could be based in the UK.

“At its simplest, IB is all about transforming biomass into bio-based products – in sectors as diverse as chemicals, food, textiles, fuels, detergents, pulp and paper,” explains Porritt. “That biomass can come from agricultural crops, other plants and grasses, agricultural and forestry residues, other sources of organic waste, and, last but not least, from algae and other marine sources.”

“When people talk about the ‘green economy’, they usually limit themselves to energy efficiency, renewable energy and waste management,” says Porritt. “But industrial biotechnology could have an equally dramatic impact, if it’s done well.

“IB is a young industry and there are still barriers to meeting its full potential, but a big part of overcoming those barriers is to ensure that IB, in all its many manifestations, meets the highest possible sustainability standards.”

If the UK is to embrace IB, argues Porritt, the government needs to establish a framework supporting the technology as a whole, rather than simply focussing on the area in which it is most obvious, namely biofuels. He adds that there’s “a rather painful contrast” between the approaches of the EU and the US government, which he says strongly supports both biofuels and IB. Overall, the US spends nearly ten times as much on IB R&D as the EU.

“Industrial biotechnology already plays an important part in the UK economy, and the potential for the future is enormous,” says Porrit. “We are investing in growth and are poised to deploy IB on a much more significant scale.

“This is exactly the right time to establish a set of sustainability principles to help guide companies – ensuring a win both for the UK economy and for a more sustainable, low-carbon future.”

Access Report