To mark a year until the COP26 conference, Scotland's Innovation Centres are hosting a virtual event which will explore how we can all benefit from tackling climate change. Here, Andrew Collier talks to panelist Mark Bustard, CEO of IBioIC, on how his organisation is accelerating commercialisation of the biotechnology sector in Scotland while investing and skilling up a highly-trained workforce


Scotland has long been a leader in biotechnology. The challenge is often to apply our skills in this area in the real world, creating genuinely beneficial and marketable products and outcomes that can make a real difference to the economy and to sustainability.

In the global battle to save the environment, industrial biotechnology has a significant role to play. The solutions it offers are exciting as they are wide-ranging, ranging from greener fuels to microbes that can close cracks in concrete.

Activity in this area is being stimulated by IBioIC, an organisation charged with stimulating the growth of the sector in Scotland to the value of £900 million by 2025.

It aims to do this by providing strategic leadership, developing new value chains, accelerating commercialisation, supporting collaboration and skilling up a trained workforce.

The body is part of Scotland’s network of seven dedicated innovation centres.

These have each been given the responsibility of bringing together businesses, academia, enterprise agencies and other stakeholders to collaborate in areas of the economy where Scotland has the potential to be an international leader.

Each also has a significant role to play in addressing issues of sustainability and the environment. They are collectively partnering with The Herald to host an important one-day online environmental conference next month. 

The aim of this event - to be held on November 3 - is to facilitate cooperation and discussion on climate-related issues in the countdown to the COP26 gathering in Glasgow next year.

This is set to be the most important international meeting on the environment to have taken place since the 2015 Paris agreement was signed. Some 30,000 delegates are set to attend the Glasgow event , which is likely to attract the attention of the world.

“We are the main delivery vehicle for Scotland’s national plan in industrial biotechnology”, explains Mark Bustard, IBioIC’s CEO. “We are driving more than 200 companies to use these processes - to take us out of research and development and ultimately into manufacturing.”


“Some 80 per cent of our members are small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and microbusinesses. They range from a spin-out company in Oban looking at a seaweed extract through to global multinationals such as GSK, Unilever and Procter and Gamble.”

Mark points out that industrial biotechnology ranges right across the economy, involving sectors as broad as energy, food, agriculture, chemicals, medical and the marine. “It’s really about growing a sustainable future. 

"We’re driven by the use of processes and feedstocks to do this to move to net zero.”

This, he adds, helps to build a whole new supply chain. “It’s an underpinning technology rather than a sector in its own right. For example, we are having conversations with food companies and talking about sustainable protein production using fermentation.

“We are also holding discussions with farmers about using some of their feedstocks to convert into high value products and to other companies about the potential utilisation of marine resources around Scotland.”

The potential also extends into petrochemicals - a sector not normally thought of as being at the forefront of the green revolution. “You can now use green technologies and produce things like polymers and other chemicals from renewable sources. It’s about trying to get to a supporting collaboration scale.”

One example Mark gives of this involves a company called Celtic Renewables which will be contributing to one of IBioIC’s sessions at next month’s Countdown to COP26 event.

“Construction is well advanced of their large scale biorefinery facility at Grangemouth which will convert distillery waste into things like acetone and ethanol. These can then go on to be used in a range of different applications. 

“So they are producing high value chemicals from low value waste, and at the same time making carbon savings.”

This sort of inventive venture, Mark says, is helping to turn the notion of a circular economy into reality. “Another strategic opportunity we are currently evaluating is looking at the reintroduction of sugar beet to the east coast of Scotland, which died out in the 1970s.

“It can then be fermented into products and generate everything from drugs and proteins to ethanol and fuels. That means the farmers can also benefit financially from the use of a break crop.”

Bioethanol produced from sugar is currently blended into unleaded petrol. “At the moment there’s a five per cent blend, but there’s a discussion currently about moving that to 10 per cent. 

“At present Scotland imports all its fuel ethanol.

“There is an opportunity to change the supply chain and bring this production back using our own feedstock. Biomass fixes atmospheric carbon dioxide as it grows therefore is a positive contributor to abatement."

Capitalising on this sort of opportunity for the benefit of Scotland is IBioIC’s reason for existence, Mark adds. “One of the critical things we have to do is to move science into manufacturing. 

“We are not looking at creating new economic sectors, but at improving the environmental impact, carbon emissions and productivity of existing ones. We are at quite an early stage compared to other countries, but we could make an immense difference. The culture shift is happening.”

The organisation’s session at the Countdown to COP26 conference will focus on sustainable industrial processes. It will include an introduction to the concept of industrial biotechnology supply chains for those who are fresh to the subject.

Another discussion will revolve around a case study involving a Scottish company, Argent Energy, which is the UK’s foremost biodiesel producer. “They take waste fats and oils and turn it into this high purity product.

“They’re actually supplying fleets and commercial vehicles at a significant scale. Once again, it’s creating something valuable, and as there’s no petrochemical refining involved, it’s a green based technology.”

Another discussion will revolve around a case study involving turning biomass into building and insulation materials. “Again, it’s about fixing the problem of carbon dioxide emissions, using it rather than just releasing them.

“These are all things that are being realised at the moment. They are not just research concepts, but are being driven through to manufacturing.

“We are all working towards a sustainable future. 

“Industrial biotechnology gives you something that is scalable and that you can take right through to a commercial level.  We can use these sustainable supply chains to benefit from a green recovery and green jobs.”


Join the conversation and take upthe challenge by registering to join Scotland’s Countdown to COP26 at: The event takes place on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, is free to attend, and will be accessible online.