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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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Executive summary

Industrial biotechnology is a key technology for future economic development. It is the application of biotechnology to the eco-efficient production and processing of chemicals, materials and bio-energy. It utilises the extraordinary capabilities of micro-organisms and enzymes, their diversity, efficiency and specificity, to make products in sectors such as chemicals, food and feed, pulp and paper, textiles, automotive, electronics and, crucially, energy. Biological processes are generally more environmentally benign than industrial chemical processes as they take place at low temperature and pressure, have lower energy input requirements and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Also, the raw materials for production are renewable, agricultural feedstocks.

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