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Caroline Strain, head of chemical sciences at Scottish Enterprise, discusses the opportunities created by the launch of Scotland's Biorefinery Roadmap.

What does Scotland's future hold?

Caroline Strain, head of chemical sciences at Scottish enterprise
Caroline Strain, head of chemical sciences at Scottish Enterprise

If I told you it was hidden in tree stumps, algae and vegetables – would you believe me?

It’s a slight simplification of something altogether more complicated – but the Biorefinery Roadmap for Scotland outlines exactly how our underused resources are creating real opportunities for our economy.

Industrial biotechnology – and more specifically, biorefining – has a long-term future in Scotland. The Roadmap illustrates how we can make this possible – outlining required actions with details of the fiscal supported needed to fulfil these economic opportunities. By carrying out these actions, we’ll be able to position Scotland as a destination to undertake sustainable manufacturing for the global marketplace.

What is biorefining?

It’s the production of materials, chemicals, fuels and energy from biomass. It’s also the conversion of fossil base feedstocks to bio product through the use of bio based catalysts.

Scotland’s expertise in brewing, fermentation and marine science (and their subsequent biomass byproducts) means we’re perfectly placed to welcome a future in industrial biotechnology – which will help to diversify our economy when we need it most.

The National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology

It’s the next step in meeting goals set as part of the National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology.

Aiming to help increase industrial biotechnology turnover to £900 million by 2025, it’s evidence of significant investment in an industry which could position Scotland as a leader in a new, dynamic sector.

I’m confident that Scotland is well-positioned for this. The Roadmap was shaped by the industry and informed by the companies who will carry out this work day in, day out.

CelluComp, for example, has been at the forefront of biotechnology – commericialising Curran, a material produced from root vegetables. Or world-leading synthetic biologists Ingenza, who manufacture chemicals, pharmaceuticals and biofuels from sustainable sources.

Celtic Renewables

Another Scottish success story, they’ve commercialised a biofuel process using the bioproducts of the whisky industry. They’re now moving towards the development of a commerical scale demonstration plant in Scotland. Ultimately, their goal is to expand their technology within – and beyond – this country.

By providing examples of how biorefining innovation can translate into viable commercial opportunities, these companies prove how we can succeed with the right level of commitment and support.

Investing in the biorefining industry

Primarily supported through investment in infrastructure, the biorefining industry will receive development of biorefining facilities, collaboration and transfer of technologies - all within the framework established by the Roadmap.

Delivered over the next ten years, the Roadmap will focus on four key themes. These will cover:

  • Developing unique resources and capabilities to build biorefineries within Scotland
  • Identifying and working with the companies delivering the biorefineries
  • Strengthing research and innovation in biorefining
  • Creating the market environment for investment

It’s certainly a challenging path, but the rewards extend well beyond immediate commericial benefits.

Creating fresh opportunities

It has as much to do with job creation as driving Scotland’s low-carbon and circular economy agendas. Our current climate change target calls for an 80 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050.

By investing significantly more in bio-based products and bio-energy technology, and the bio-transformation of of fossil-fuel based products, we will lead Scotland closer to reaching its goal –of being a location for sustainbale high value chemical manufacturing- whilst growing a supply chain that, if successful, could lead to considerable inward investment.

Scotland has many legacy industries that form our current economic backbone. The Roadmap argues the case that industrial biotechnology has the potential to be a legacy of the future. By leveraging existing expertise, it will contribute sustainable economic opportunity and direct a clear path forward.

Download Scotland's Biorefinery Roadmap (pdf, 660kB)