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Future Prospects for Industrial Biotechnology

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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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Business organisation and finance in industrial biotechnology

In the past industrial biotechnology has used traditional business models that may not be optimal for a high technology business that relies heavily on R&D. New ways of working are starting to emerge. This can equally be said of financing. At this stage there is an overwhelming need for large-scale production facilities and public as well as private investment are essential to underpin progress. At industrial biotechnology’s current state of development, intellectual property is not concentrated and there is plenty of room for entry of new players. A great many companies are small SMEs, many of them spinouts from universities. These companies often find survival difficult as it can be many years before they reach profitability. In many countries, strategies to help such companies survive are emerging.

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