Brussels, 08 Jan 2004
The Belgian Royal Academy of Science is to publish a report on 15 January calling on European and national authorities, together with industry, to establish a technology platform in the emerging field of industrial biotechnology.
Distinct from the two other main applications of biotechnology, healthcare and agriculture (also known as 'red' and 'green' biotechnology respectively), industrial, or 'white', biotechnology is mainly based on the use of biocatalysts and bioprocessing.
These are used to convert renewable resources (biomass), such as sugars or vegetable oils, into a wide range of useful substances including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, bio plastics, vitamins, food additives, and bio fuels.
Compared with conventional chemical technologies, industrial biotechnology has certain obvious benefits, say the authors of the report, 'industrial biotechnology and sustainable chemistry'. As the raw materials are usually agricultural crops, rather than fossil fuels like crude oil and gas, the ecological advantages of white biotechnology are significant.
In terms of performance, the report also highlights the fact that industrial biotechnology can deliver final products with higher reaction rates and improved purity, while consuming less energy and generating less chemical waste.
Such advantages have already led to an estimated market penetration in the chemical industry of around five per cent, which is expect to rise to between 10 and 20 per cent by 2010. In order for industrial biotechnology to reach its full potential, however, the report makes a number of policy recommendations.
First, the report states that: '[A]s industrial biotechnology is an application oriented and multidisciplinary scientific domain [...] more interdisciplinary applied research effort is needed in this domain, by specific research programmes both on a national and European level.'
Fragmentation of efforts can be overcome, and critical mass achieved, through the establishment of research clusters and networks, which can then evolve into true centres of excellence, it adds.
Proposed fiscal and political measures include the de-taxation of bio fuels, which is described as 'particularly urgent in all European countries', and efforts to increase public awareness of industrial biotechnology, which the authors believe will have the added benefit of improving the public perception of biotechnology as a whole.
The report concludes by arguing that: 'The creation of a 'technology platform for industrial biotechnology' [...] brining together all important stakeholders, can make sure that the European Commission, the national governments, the industry and the academic world cooperate towards a common goal by developing a long term vision and strategy.'
The report will be presented at a conference in Brussels on 15 January.