Bath is one of 13 research centres to secure part of an £18 million grant from the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

It is the only university in the South West of England to secure the funding, which is being given to create 13 unique collaborative Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy.

The Networks will all be tasked with boosting the interaction between their academic research and industry to promote the way research directly benefits the UK – a key driver for the University.

They 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, covering issues 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.

Professor David Leak, from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, and Dr Joe Gallagher, from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Aberystwyth, will be working on the Network of Integrated Technologies: Plants to Products.

“Our work will centre around researching the issues of making products for the chemical industry from renewable resources, such as plant and municipal wastes or purpose grown crops, so that we can move away from our reliance on fossil fuels. We have assembled a network of more than 50 academics and industrialists, which will have a particular focus on the later stages of production while other networks are looking at how plants can be broken down into convertible feedstock components,” said Professor Leak.

“The Networks will provide 'pump-prime' funding to enable us to address key bottlenecks which are currently restricting commercialisation in this field. This will involve working at the inter-disciplinary interface between biotechnology, chemistry and chemical engineering, which fits in well with the wider theme of Sustainable Chemical Technologies which has a strong foundation in Bath. The intention is that Network-funded projects form the basis for bids into the £45 million IB Catalyst which will be available next year.”

The announcement has also drawn praise from Universities & Science Minister David Willetts, who 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 new schemes form the central part of BBSRC's 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 products which currently rely on petrochemicals.

The 13 networks and their Directors are:

  • Anaerobic Digestion Network: Professor Charles Banks, University of Southampton, and Professor Orkun Soyer, University of Warwick.
  • 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)
  • Bioprocessing Network: BioProNET: Professor Christopher Smales, University of Kent, and Professor Alan Dickson, University of Manchester
  • C1NET: Chemicals from C1 Gas: Professor Nigel Minton, University of Nottingham and Professor David Fell, Oxford Brookes University
  • Crossing biological membranes: Engineering the cell-environment interface to improve process efficiency: Professor Jeff Green, University of Sheffield, and Professor Gavin Thomas, University of York
  • Food Processing Waste and By-Products Utilisation Network (FoodWasteNet): Professor Dimitris Charalampopoulos, University of Reading, and Professor Keith Waldron, the Institute of Food Research
  • High Value Chemicals from Plants Network: Professor Ian Graham, University of York, and Professor Anne Osbourn, the John Innes Centre
  • IBCarb - Glycoscience Tools for Biotechnology and Bioenergy: Professor Sabine Flitsch, University of Manchester and Professor Rob Field, the John Innes Centre
  • Metals in Biology: The elements of Biotechnology and Bioenergy: Professor Nigel Robinson, Durham University, and Professor Martin Warren, University of Kent
  • Natural Products Discovery and Bioengineering Network (NPRONET): Professor Jason Micklefield, University of Manchester, and Professor Barrie Wilkinson, the John Innes Centre
  • Network in Biocatalyst Discovery, Development and Scale-Up: Professor Nicholas Turner, University of Manchester, working with Professor John Ward from University College London
  • PHYCONET: unlocking the IB potential of microalgae: Professor Saul Purton, University College London, and Professor Michelle Stanley, SAMS
  • Plant Biomass Biorefinery Network (PBBNet): Professor Simon McQueen-Mason, University of York, and Professor Tim Bugg, University of Warwick