COVID-19 has been an unwelcome driver of change and as we rebuild we have an opportunity to create a better, more resilient and sustainable economy that will benefit us and future generations.

This month, Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), in partnership with the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), launched the Bioeconomy Cluster Builder to drive Scotland’s green recovery post covid-19, and to provide a boost to Scotland’s bioeconomy. The three-year project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (EDRF), aims to increase the number of businesses involved in Industrial Biotechnology (IB) in Scotland by 100 and to leverage £8m funding by March 2023.

The idea of a net zero carbon emissions and zero waste economy isn’t as far-fetched as some may think. Industrial Biotechnology (IB) is one of the many faces of innovation in the life sciences world. IB offers sustainable, scalable solutions to the current environmental challenges facing many industries. It is a positive innovation that can help to create a greener, biobased economy that has the potential to address some of the world’s health, food, energy, and environmental challenges.

The Bioeconomy Cluster Builder will really help to accelerate innovation in the sector and will also boost industry engagement outside of the current bioeconomy community. It will encourage companies, start-ups and spin-outs to look at value chains and other opportunities for the production of renewable biological resources, and their conversion into everyday products, that will help to contribute to a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future for all.

It will bring together academia and industry to research, develop and deploy novel high-tech approaches to the conversion of biomass and waste streams into value-added products and applications.

Focusing on six value chains that will play a key role in the growth of the bioeconomy – whisky co-products, marine biomass, agricultural biomass, municipal solid wastes and food processing by-products and waste, forestry biomass and carbon capture – the Bioeconomy Cluster Builder project will look to bring benefits to companies to support NetZero in the form of improved sustainability, increased efficiency and superior product performance.

Repurposing traditional ‘waste products’ is a great use of IB. One industry’s waste is another industry’s gold. We are already seeing some innovative products being developed by some of our members using bio-technology to repurpose waste from industrial and agricultural processes. The sources and uses are wide-ranging, the likes of salmon feed can be made from algae grown on whisky co-products to reduce carbon emissions.

IBioIC has over 120 member organisations, working across Scotland, the UK and Europe to find innovative solutions to modern problems. Our industry members range from medical biotechnology companies working on protein production through to those developing green solutions in bioenergy and biofuel, that utilise agriculture, marine and forestry derived materials. The projects IBioIC help to deliver are as diverse as taking waste from shellfish and using it to develop sustainable, biodegradable packaging, to fermenting sugar in bioprocesses for the production of high value products like pharmaceuticals and sustainable materials.

The key promise of a bio-based economy is that we can grow the sources of raw materials for every day products. Now is the time for Scotland to harness the full potential of biotechnology by investing in companies that will provide solutions, for both the environment and the economy, and for the next generation.

Mark Bustard is CEO at Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC)