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Defining our role in the UK's Bioeconomy Strategy

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In December last year, the UK government published their bioeconomy strategy; Growing the Bioeconomy: A national bioeconomy strategy to 2030. Echoing many of the key messages highlighted in the European Bioeconomy Strategy, the UK paper emphasised the strength of our sector both in terms of societal impact and financial value.  

The strategy presents itself as the result of extensive consultation between government, industry specialists and the research community and defines bioeconomy as “the economic potential of harnessing the power of bioscience and biotechnology.” 

As ambassadors of the UK bioeconomy, we are well aware of what our industry is worth. From the production of more sustainable food, to the development of environmentally friendly bio-fuels, the growth of the bioeconomy benefits us all. But the UK Bioeconomy Strategy also impacts the Clean Growth Strategy, the Life Sciences Strategy, the Industrial Strategy and of course the overarching European Bioeconomy Strategy. The importance of getting the UK bioeconomy right, is enormous. 

Then there’s the national economic impact of a thriving biotechnology sector. The UK bioeconomy is currently responsible for up to 5 million jobs in the UK, with an estimated worth of £220billion GVA; yet the government has ambitions for further growth, where the UK is a global leader in bio-based solutions. The government predicts that the UK bioeconomy will double in size in the next 10-15 years and with the global market for biorefineries alone set to soar to £550billion by 2021, this prediction doesn’t seem at all unlikely.  

“The bioeconomy represents the economic potential of harnessing the power of bioscience and biotechnology” 

Richard Harrington, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State, Minister for Business and Industry said:

“A strong and vibrant bioeconomy harnesses the power of bioscience and biotechnology, transforming the way we address challenges in food, chemicals, materials, energy and fuel production, health and the environment.” 

“The strategy sows the seeds to grow a world-class bioeconomy, building on the UK’s strength to develop solutions that are economically and environmentally sustainable.” 

Four key challenges: 

Growing the Bioeconomy delineates the government’s approach to transformation by outlining a wide range of opportunities accessible to the UK, enabling us to boost national productivity and address key challenges such as food, chemicals, materials, energy production, health and environment. 

This is articulated through four high-level goals: 

  1. To capitalise on the UK’s “world-class” research, development and innovation base  
  2. To maximise the potential of bioeconomy assets to increase productivity from our existing renewable biological resources 
  3. To support industry in order to delivery positive benefits for the UK economy 
  4. To create fair conditions in national and international markets to allow innovative bio-based products and services to thrive 

 

Facilitating the strategy: 

These are the actions required to facilitate the growth of the UK bioeconomy, but to be successful continued collaboration between government, industry and research organisations is vital. Bouygues Energies & Services is one of the key players and contributors to the UK bioeconomy and they have a history of working in collaboration with the leading UK research organisations. From experience of working with a variety of highly innovative and pioneering clients, they agree that although the technology and ideas exist, there’s a requirement for improved high-level investment process and better collaboration and knowledge exchange between the involved parties.  

By accepting the challenge of investment for businesses operating in the biotechnology sector, hopefully the new bioeconomy strategy will pave the way for improved opportunities - especially for disruptive start-ups and spin-offs - potentially through the creation of lucrative Sector Deals like those that have been established for Life Sciences and Construction.  

Reflecting upon this approach, Zeb Ahmed, Deputy Managing Director, Bouygues Energies & Services stated:

“With an unprecedented demand for resources, Bouygues Energies & Services fully endorse and support making the UK the global partner of choice for the bioeconomy, fundamentally underpinned by collaboration between research and industry. Utilising the UK’s world-class bioscience base as the launch platform, this should accelerate and catalyse the production of new, diverse industries of the future. From clean energy to innovative medicines, advanced recycled materials and waste valorisation; the sky’s the limit! 

“Bouygues Energies & Services are fully committed to the low carbon economy and as a pioneer and leader in Industrial Biotechnology we will continue to invest and develop our organisation’s resources and capabilities to be instrumental in influencing, shaping, transforming and accelerating the bioeconomy industry of today and tomorrow.” 

 “We need to strengthen the way in which research is translated into commercial success in the UK” 

The government have outlined that innovators need support in turning The Bioeconomy Strategy's strategic goalscutting edge ideas into a commercial success, but accelerating commercialisation of ideas is not only about supporting research. It is about ensuring that the capabilities and infrastructure are in place to move from the feasibility stages in the first place. Businesses like Bouygues Energies & Services are available to de-risk investments in new, or cutting-edge technologies, and accelerate products to market by offering comprehensive solutions from FEED studies and proof-of-concept, to scale-up manufacturing facilities.  

Zeb added,

“For the past 11 years we have played an outstanding role as a provider in the Industrial Biotechnology sectors and we are responsible for most of the UK’s flagship demonstrator facilities. The industrial demonstrator facility and process plant projects we have been involved with are recognised as the leading, flagship technology innovation centres for the bioeconomy in the UK, for which we remain extremely proud and privileged to be associated with.” 

Whilst historically this model of working has been very successful for businesses such as Bouygues Energies & Services, if the government are truly committed to accelerating the commercialisation of ideas, there needs to be improved provision of opportunities for relationships between research and business to be established. 

Innovation centres such as the IBioIC offer great opportunities for businesses to connect with other members of the biotechnology community so that these alliances can happen, but without continued investment it is difficult to see how these communities will continue to grow and develop.  

The IBioIC is proof that investment works; established with an initial investment of £10million by the Scottish Funding Council in 2012, the Scottish Industrial Biotechnology sector saw an 18% increase in turnover between 2013 and 2015 and is on course to generate £900million by 2025. If the Bioeconomy Strategy proposes to encourage similar growth across other parts of the UK, IBioIC’s model is surely one that needs to be followed.  

Final thoughts: Delivering Positive Benefits for the UK Economy

The Bioeconomy Strategy should provide a lasting platform for innovators, researchers, industrials and policy makers to facilitate the actions needed to drive innovation and for the bioeconomy to thrive.  It stresses that by 2030, the UK will be a leader in bio-based solutions. Our industrial heritage certainly makes it difficult to envisage a United Kingdom that doesn’t aspire to fulfil its role in the next evolution of industry, but is 2030 soon enough? 

The nationwide STEM shortage is no secret; we need to ensure that we have a workforce equipped with the skills that the bioeconomy demands right now. The decades of damage caused by previous industrial activity is potentially irreversible; we need to halt environmentally harmful manufacturing and make the switch to cleaner, bio-based products before it is too late, not after. 

Ultimately, it is clear that Bouygues Energies & Services, alongside their partners, have an exciting role to play in the UK’s transition to a sustainable and circular bioeconomy. By delivering demonstration and pilot facilities they can reduce “perceived investment risk” for their clients; by offering FEED studies prior to project kick-off they can help clients improve efficiency and accelerate speed to market. 

It is the next steps that are of crucial significance; the actions outlined by this strategy must become reality, and quickly, so that we may continue our collective progress in a UK sector that has almost limitless potential.  

 

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