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. 


Trends in industry and products

This chapter examines recent trends in biofuels, bio-based chemicals and bioplastics. There is also some discussion of the future critical role of the integrated biorefinery. Biofuels have, unsurprisingly, dominated industrial biotechnology of late, and is reflected in recent country policies to promote biofuels production. The platform chemicals concept is explored and the platform chemicals that are likely to be important initially in the integrated biorefinery are identified. Bio-based chemicals also cover bulk, fine and specialty chemicals. Recent advances in biodegradable plastics and bio-based plastics have seen the market potential grow quickly as applications far beyond traditional packaging applications have started to emerge. In particular, the emergence of biobased thermoplastics is set to affect the plastics world significantly, with very steep growth predicted over the next few years. Biofuels have enjoyed a wide range of supportive policy measures, but bio-based chemicals and bioplastics have not.


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