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East Midlands Chamber News

Uni Wins £1.5m to Lead Environment Safeguarding Group

The University of Nottingham has received funding of nearly £1.5m to lead a UK-wide network that will promote working with industry on developing sustainable sources of chemicals and energy which will safeguard the environment.

The funding is part of an £18m grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to establish 13 unique industry-academia networks in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy.

Professor Nigel Minton, in the School of Life Sciences, said: “Current energy and chemical needs are met by the extraction and processing of fossil fuels, in the form of coal, petroleum and natural gas.

"Such resources are finite, are frequently found in politically unstable regions of the world, and their utilisation is having severe impacts on the climate, both through pollution and increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is imperative that new biological processes are developed based on the use of microorganisms to convert sustainable carbon sources into the necessary chemicals and fuels.”

Professor Minton, a leading UK expert in industrial biotechnology, and his co-investigator Professor David Fell from Oxford Brookes University, will lead a network that will look at using bacteria to convert the simple gases that are all around us into more complex useful chemicals and fuels.

Professor Minton said:

Developing economic processes that efficiently convert plant material into the necessary sugar feedstock is proving challenging.

"In our network, we will take an alternative, ground breaking approach in which we will not use sugars as the microbial feedstock, but simple gases such as carbon monoxide (C0) and carbon dioxide (C02).

"Such gases may be derived from non-food sources such as waste gases from industry (e.g., steel manufacturing, oil refining, coal and natural/shale gas) as well as synthesis gas (CO & H2) produced from sustainable resources, such as biomass and domestic/ agricultural wastes. This enables low carbon fuels and chemicals to be produced in any industrialised geography without consumption of valuable food or land resources.”

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “To get ahead in the global race we need to turn our world-beating science and research into world-beating products and services, as set out in our Industrial Strategy. These networks will unlock the huge potential of biotechnology and bioenergy, such as finding innovative ways to use leftover food, and creating chemicals from plant cells.”

The networks will drive new ideas to harness the potential of biological resources for producing and processing materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy. Each has a particular focus, such as: realising the potential of food waste and by-products to produce chemicals and biomaterials; unlocking the industrial biotechnology potential of microalgae; producing high value chemicals from plants; and making use of plant cell walls (lignocellulosic biomass) to produce chemicals and biofuels.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Executive Director, Innovation and Skills, said: “These networks bring together a number of internationally competitive, cross-disciplinary communities capable of undertaking innovative research that will attract further investment from the UK and abroad.

“They provide a new opportunity for the research community to make significant contributions to the UK’s bioeconomy: driving transformational bioscience into industrial processes and products; creating wealth and jobs; and delivering environmental benefits, such as CO2 reduction.”

Each network includes funds to support a range of small proof of concept research projects, to demonstrate potential benefits for end user industries. The networks will then work with industries to investigate these research challenges further. Many of these ideas and collaborative links will build into the next phase: the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst, funded by BBSRC, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the EPSRC, to be launched in early 2014 to support the development of ideas from concept to commercialisation.