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BBSRC Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy

Fostering cross disciplinary communities

Call status: Closed
Previous call: 24 January 2013 – 16 July 2013

Funding total


Number of networks funded

We have funded 13 unique collaborative Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (BBSRC NIBB), with two Networks being funded with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

  1. Anaerobic Digestion Network - Professor Charles Banks, University of Southampton, and Professor Orkun Soyer, The University of Warwick.

    The Network addresses scientific and technical challenges in the development of anaerobic biotechnology, drawing on the expertise of leading academics underpinned by new tools and concepts. As well as enhancing the performance of anaerobic digestion (AD) as a second generation bioenergy process, these open up new areas of application in the creation of value-added bio-based products, widening the process scope to a biorefinery. Bio-molecular tools open up the possibility of improved diagnostics and advanced on-line process control, topics of immediate interest to industry.
  2. A Network of Integrated Technologies: Plants to Products - Professor David Leak, University of Bath and Dr Joe Gallagher, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS)

    The Network will focus on the conversion of plant material, including agricultural by-products and agro-industrial co-products to chemicals and materials. The aim is to overcome barriers to biorefining of feedstocks by optimisation of multi-stream processes through integration of disciplines and exploitation of emerging technologies. We believe that the route to tackling current technical and commercial bottlenecks in developing a sustainable process for producing chemicals from biomass based renewables lies in effective communication between disciplines.
  3. Bioprocessing Network: BioProNET - Professor Christopher Smales, University of Kent, and Professor Alan Dickson, The University of Manchester

    This Network in the field of bioprocessing and biologics, engages academics, industrialists and other special interest groups to accelerate innovation and deliver change in this area. This will ensure that the UK academic research agenda is world-leading, industrially-relevant and recognised globally as a leading network in the sector and the go-to place for collaborative research. The Network will thus establish an internationally-recognized, sustainable and integrated cross-disciplinary network able to address major research challenges in the area of bioprocessing and non-therapeutic (e.g. diagnostics, drug screening, crystallization/structural studies) biologics.
  4. C1NET: Chemicals from C1 Gas - Professor Nigel Minton, The University of Nottingham and Professor David Fell, Oxford Brookes University

    A Network which will create a vibrant community of UK academics tasked with unravelling the biological, chemical and process engineering aspects of gas fermentation and to steer translational outputs towards commercial application. The network will provide the 'glue' to bring together a UK-based cadre of biologists, chemists, computational modellers/mathematicians and process engineers to better understand and thence exploit gas fermentation processes for translation into industry.
  5. Crossing biological membranes: Engineering the cell-environment interface to improve process efficiency (CBMNet) - Professor Jeff Green, The University of Sheffield, and Professor Gavin Thomas, The University of York

    Moving molecules across membranes is a barrier to improving many existing Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) processes that utilize cell factories. With the advent of synthetic biology, identifying transport systems for integration into chassis organisms will be crucial in expanding the economic and social impacts of IBBE. The motivation for this network is that understanding the mechanisms by which substances are transported into, within, and out of cell factories will lead to the development of enabling technologies that are crucial for the future development of almost all cell-based IBBE applications. The goal is to develop innovative solutions and technologies to overcome yield restrictions due to inefficient transport systems in existing IBBE processes and to embed consideration of transport systems in future IBBE activities.
  6. Food Processing Waste and By-Products Utilisation Network (FoodWasteNet) - Professor Dimitris Charalampopoulos, University of Reading, and Professor Keith Waldron, the Institute of Food Research

    The aims of the Network will be to foster the interaction between researchers and industrialists in order to realise the potential of using food waste and by-products to produce chemicals and biomaterials with market potential. For this, the Network will identify suitable feedstocks, novel products and product applications, and develop scalable technologies based on industrial biotechnology and process engineering for their sustainable production.
  7. High Value Chemicals from Plants Network - Professor Ian Graham, The University of York, and Professor Anne Osbourn, the John Innes Centre

    There is broad consensus across Government and Industry that exploitation of high value chemicals from plants can play a major role in the contribution that industrial biotechnology will make to the UK economy in the coming decade. The High Value Chemicals from Plants Network will help realise this potential by developing a coordinated critical mass of academic expertise, working in partnership with industry, focused on identifying novel products and optimising and developing both feedstocks and processes in planta. Platform technologies will relate to Bioactive Discovery, Feedstock Development (which will include molecular breeding, metabolic engineering and new production platforms), Extraction and Processing Technologies, Biotransformation, Chemical Transformation and Product Evaluation.
  8. IBCarb - Glycoscience Tools for Biotechnology and Bioenergy - Professor Sabine Flitsch, The University of Manchester and Professor Rob Field, the John Innes Centre

    Carbohydrates constitute the largest source of biomass on Earth and their exploitation for novel applications in biomaterials, energy, food and health will be critical in moving away from dependence on hydrocarbons to develop sustainable biotechnologies and reduce GHG emissions, ensuring both energy and food security. The analysis, synthesis and biosynthesis of carbohydrates and their modification to industrial products are central challenges in both industrial biotechnology and bioenergy. Great demand and opportunities are possible in diverse areas such as biopharmaceuticals (8 out of 10 top selling drugs worldwide are glycoproteins), foods (prebiotics designed for the human gut microbiota), antimicrobials (targeting cell surface recognition and biosynthesis), materials (from biorenewable polysaccharides) or energy (digesting the indigestible).
  9. Metals in Biology: The elements of Biotechnology and Bioenergy - Professor Nigel Robinson, Durham University, and Professor Martin Warren, University of Kent

    The prevalence of metallo-enzymes means that success in synthetic biology may pivot upon an ability to engineer metal-supply inside microorganisms, plants and animal cells. For example, the sustainable manufacture of isobutanol has required the engineering of cellular iron-circuits. The abundance of each metal is controlled inside cells by sensors that regulate metal import, metal export, metal trafficking and metal storage systems, they also switch metabolism to take advantage of more available metals and to minimise demand for those in deficiency. Network members will work with the bio-processing sector to optimise metal availability, collaborate with multiple companies to engineer synthetic metallo-enzymes and will optimise metal uptake and assimilation into biomolecules required for bio-energy production, bioremediation, biomedicine and synthesis of high value industrial feed-stocks.
  10. Natural Products Discovery and Bioengineering Network (NPRONET) - Professor Jason Micklefield, The University of Manchester, and Professor Barrie Wilkinson, the John Innes Centre

    Secondary metabolites produced by microorganisms and plants have inspired the development of leading pharmaceuticals including anticancer, immunosuppressive, cholesterol-lowering agents as well as most of the antibiotics in clinical use today. NPRONET will integrate genomics data and utilise systems/synthetic biology tools in order to discover new natural products and to guide the bioengineering of natural product scaffolds for therapeutic, agricultural and other applications including more efficient and diverse routes for the production of fine and commodity chemicals. A key goal of NPRONET will be to devise methods for activating unproductive biosynthetic pathways to provide the quantities of natural products needed for further development. In addition, NPRONET will utilise the expanding mechanistic and structural knowledge of biosynthetic enzymes to develop new strategies for re-programming biosynthetic pathways.
  11. Network in Biocatalyst Discovery, Development and Scale-Up - Professor Nicholas Turner, The University of Manchester, and Professor John Ward from University College London

    Access to a broad range of biocatalysts for R&D is widely recognised as rate limiting in the uptake of IB, particularly by the chemical industry where there is desire to replace existing processes with those based upon sustainable feedstocks and catalysts. The Network will provide significant long-term benefits to a substantial percentage of the IB community: seeking to discover, develop and make available a broader range of biocatalysts which can be screened and applied by the end-users. The Network with have three main themes: (i) Biocatalyst discovery and screening (ii) Biocatalyst development and optimisation (iii) Biocatalyst scale-up.
  12. PHYCONET: unlocking the IB potential of microalgae - Dr Saul Purton, University College London, and Dr Michele Stanley, SAMS

    Eukaryotic and prokaryotic microalgae are diverse photosynthetic microorganisms that have considerable potential as industrial biotechnology (IB) platforms for a wide range of natural and engineered bio-products, from bioplastics and biofuels to high value bioactives. However, microalgal IB is an immature field that requires step-changing advances in algal biology, genetic engineering, cultivation at scale and downstream processing. The PHYCONET network will bringing together the UK algal biosciences research community, businesses operating in the IB sector, and other stakeholders to create the critical mass of expertise, effort and focus needed to achieve the step-change and make the UK a leading player in algal biotechnology. The network will limit its remit to high-value products produced by microalgae in closed photobioreactors, since industrial and public acceptance will occur most rapidly through clear demonstrations that microalgae can be viable platforms for small-scale production of high-value commodities.
  13. Lignocellulosic Biorefinery Network (LBNet) - Professor Simon McQueen-Mason, The University of York, and Professor Tim Bugg, University of Warwick

    Plant biomass is currently the only renewable and sustainable non-food feedstock available on a scale commensurate with current use of petroleum. Lignocellulosic biomass is a rich source of fixed carbon incorporated into a range of polymers comprising mainly polysaccharides and lignin. Lignocellulosic plant biomass also contains a wide range of less abundant chemicals and polymers including sterols, waxes and fatty acids. Thus, this non-food feedstock has the potential to provide a wide range of bulk and speciality chemicals that can serve as the basis for producing most of the products we currently obtain from petroleum. The Lignocellulosic Biorefinery Network (LBNet) will establish a cohesive multi-disciplinary network of researchers and stakeholders with interests in lignocellulose-derived biorenewables in order to overcome fragmentation of the research community in this area and develop systems based approaches to move this area forward.


  • To boost interaction between the academic research base and industry, promoting the translation of research into benefits for the UK
  • To drive new ideas to harness the potential of biological resources for producing and processing materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy, with each network having a particular focus

The BBSRC NIBB, along with the IB Catalyst, form the central part of our strategy to support the development of Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (IBBE) as a key component of the UK bioeconomy and will help to provide sustainable processes for producing bio-based alternatives to products which currently rely on petrochemicals. (IBBE).

Key aims

  • To support a number of networks in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy and through them, facilitate the development of internationally competitive cross-disciplinary communities capable of undertaking innovative research and attracting further investment from UK and international sources
  • To provide the resources to support proof of concept funding for a range of research projects identified by the networks, ultimately leading to more competitive, collaborative, cross-disciplinary and integrative research proposals to BBSRC and elsewhere
  • To encourage the interaction between the academic research base and technology-deploying, associated value-chain and end-user businesses, promoting the translation of research particularly involving genomic, systems and synthetic biology
  • To enable the supported networks to provide the leadership to develop, in collaboration with business, challenges to be addressed by the IB Catalyst fund

2014 IB Catalyst call

In 2014 the networks will be followed by the launch of a BBSRC/TSB IB Catalyst that will provide funds to support major integrated research projects involving collaborations between the academic and business communities. The IB Catalyst is modelled on the MRC/TSB Biomedical Catalyst and will encourage major challenge-led research projects derived from the networking activities: the initial call will allocate funds up to a value of £25M.

Panel members (meeting held 31 October 2013)

Professor Peter Fryer (Chair) - University of Birmingham
Professor Keith Lindsey (Deputy Chair) - Durham University
Professor Matthew Davidson - University of Bath
Dr Edward Green - Green Biologics
Dr Mark Carver - Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies
Professor Elena Lurie-Luke - Proctor & Gamble
Dr Damien Kelly - Croda International
Dr Stuart West - Biocatalysts, Ltd
Professor Jennifer Littlechild - University of Exeter
Professor Alexei Lapkin - University of Cambridge
Dr Mark Uden - GlaxoSmithKline
Dr Chris French - The University of Edinburgh
Professor Rudolf Allemann - Cardiff University


Chris Brookes

+44 1793 413337

Related calls: energy industrial biotechnology industry multidisciplinary