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.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: "To get ahead in the global race we need to turn our world-beating science and research into world-beating products and services, as set out in our Industrial Strategy.
"These networks will unlock the huge potential of biotechnology and bioenergy, such as finding innovative ways to use leftover food, and creating chemicals from plant cells."
The networks will drive new ideas to harness the potential of biological resources for producing and processing materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy. Each has a particular focus, such as: realising the potential of food waste and by-products to produce chemicals and biomaterials; unlocking the industrial biotechnology potential of microalgae; producing high value chemicals from plants; and making use of plant cell walls (lignocellulosic biomass) to produce chemicals and biofuels.
Two of the networks are being funded with support from The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to a value of £1M.
Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Executive Director, Innovation and Skills, said: "These networks bring together a number of internationally competitive, cross-disciplinary communities capable of undertaking innovative research that will attract further investment from the UK and abroad.
"They provide a new opportunity for the research community to make significant contributions to the UK's bioeconomy: driving transformational bioscience into industrial processes and products; creating wealth and jobs; and delivering environmental benefits, such as CO2 reduction."
Each network includes funds to support a range of small proof of concept research projects, to demonstrate potential benefits for end user industries. The networks will then work with industries to investigate these research challenges further. Many of these ideas and collaborative links will build into the next phase: the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst, funded by BBSRC, the Technology Strategy Board and the EPSRC, to be launched in early 2014 to support the development of ideas from concept to commercialisation.
The catalyst has benefited from recent cash injections and will now offer £45M funding to support major integrated research projects involving collaborations between academic and business communities that will offer clear commercial potential.
These new schemes form the central part of BBSRC's strategy to support the development of Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) as a key component of the UK bioeconomy and will help to provide sustainable processes for producing bio-based alternatives products which currently rely on petrochemicals.
The 13 networks and their Directors are:
Anaerobic Digestion Network
- Professor Charles Banks, University of Southampton, and Professor Orkun Soyer, University of Warwick.
A Network of Integrated Technologies: Plants to Products
- Professor David Leak, University of Bath and Dr Joe Gallagher, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS)
Bioprocessing Network: BioProNET
- Professor Christopher Smales, University of Kent, and Professor Alan Dickson, The University of Manchester
C1NET: Chemicals from C1 Gas
- Professor Nigel Minton, University of Nottingham and Professor David Fell, Oxford Brookes University
Crossing biological membranes: Engineering the cell-environment interface to improve process efficiency
- Professor Jeff Green, University of Sheffield, and Professor Gavin Thomas, University of York
Food Processing Waste and By-Products Utilisation Network (FoodWasteNet)
- Professor Dimitris Charalampopoulos, University of Reading, and Professor Keith Waldron, the Institute of Food Research
High Value Chemicals from Plants Network
- Professor Ian Graham, University of York, and Professor Anne Osbourn, the John Innes Centre
IBCarb - Glycoscience Tools for Biotechnology and Bioenergy
- Professor Sabine Flitsch, The University of Manchester and Professor Rob Field, the John Innes Centre
Metals in Biology: The elements of Biotechnology and Bioenergy
- Professor Nigel Robinson, Durham University, and Professor Martin Warren, University of Kent
Natural Products Discovery and Bioengineering Network (NPRONET)
- Professor Jason Micklefield, The University of Manchester, and Professor Barrie Wilkinson, the John Innes Centre
Network in Biocatalyst Discovery, Development and Scale-Up
- Professor Nicholas Turner, The University of Manchester, and Professor John Ward from University College London
PHYCONET: unlocking the IB potential of microalgae
- Dr Saul Purton, University College London, and Dr Michele Stanley, SAMS
Plant Biomass Biorefinery Network (PBBNet)
- Professor Simon McQueen-Mason, University of York, and Professor Tim Bugg, University of Warwick