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Future Prospects for Industrial Biotechnology

image of Future Prospects for Industrial Biotechnology

The field of industrial biotechnology has moved rapidly in recent years as a combined result of international political desire, especially in the case of biofuels, and unprecedented progress in molecular biology research that has supplied the enabling technologies. Different geographical regions  have different priorities, but common drivers are climate change mitigation and the desire for energy independence. Now, industrial biotechnology has reached the centre of scientific and political attention. At no time in the past has there been a more pressing need for coherent, evidence-based, proportionate regulations and policy measures; they are at the heart of responsible development of industrial biotechnology.

This publication examines the international drivers, the enabling technologies that are fast-tracking Industrial Biotechnology, industry trends, some of the products that are appearing on the market, industry structure and finance, and finally policy measures and trends. It examines separately biofuels, biobased chemicals and bioplastics. It is quite clear that a supportive policy framework for the development of biofuels exists in many countries, but that no such framework is in place for biobased chemicals and bioplastics. This seems at odds with the apparent need for the integrated biorefinery, where chemicals and plastics production will significantly improve profitability when produced alongside transportation fuels. 

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Biotechnology policy

Developments, implications and conclusions

A range of supply- and demand-side policies, from biomass production to waste and by-products, have been deployed to develop the biofuels industry. It is important to balance supply and demand incentives, but this balance is not easily achieved. As biofuels globalise, there is a need for internationally agreed standards and to enable free trade and stimulate markets and the use of life cycle analysis (LCA) to verify sustainability. There is as yet no policy arsenal for bio-based chemicals and bioplastics comparable to that available for biofuels. However, the integrated biorefineries of the future will probably depend on their production alongside high volume, low margin transport fuels to make refinery economics viable.

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