At BioBridge we look at the market and regulatory aspects of developments in industrial biotechnology, analysing product or technology diversification, and looking for potential partners, writes Meredith Lloyd-Evans, Managing Director and Founder of the Cambridge-based company.
The ideas of interlinked processes are always on our mind and how they create the Circular Bioeconomy.
This concept, linking processes and companies so that side-streams from one become inputs into others, seems socially and environmentally virtuous and high in manufacturing efficiency.
An excellent and well-established example is British Sugar’s Wissington plant, valorising every part of the incoming sugar-beet loads in addition to the sugar, from sieved soil and aggregates, to betaine, to carbon dioxide for carbonated drinks, with excess heat and carbon dioxide used in tomato-production and, more recently, in cannabis cultivation for medicines.
Definition of waste is still an obstacle
One stumbling-block is that many side-streams are still defined as wastes that legally require discarding and cannot go for high-value uses.
This has a large impact on value of additional end-products; without legislation or standards, it blocks full value extraction even when specific processes are shown to be safe and effective at converting unpromising starting materials, such as undifferentiated food wastes or mixed domestic waste, into active components acceptable for human use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, nutritional supplements and other highly-regulated areas.
A start has been made in the EU with acceptance of food wastes for animal feeds*, which will help the efforts to use edible food wastes to feed insects and then produce insect oil and meal for animal feed and extracts of potentially higher-value molecules.
Getting multiple products from single source
The BIC (Bio-Based Industries Consortium) is the outcome of EU support of this activity, and has now had several substantial funding calls, leading to projects in whey biorefineries, added-value products from algae, sustainable biocomposites, improved lignocellulose conversions, protein mining from cereal side streams and other promising ‘waste valorisation’ endeavours.
One of the areas I work in, blue biotechnology, recognises the usefulness of algae in first of all using side-streams such as heat, carbon dioxide and non-potable water, removing them from negative environmental balance, to produce the positives of processable biomass and cleaner water as outputs. It is now not just about algal biofuels.
Bioreactors create high value components on marginal land
Farmers could adapt non-arable or grazable land by having land-based flat-plate bioreactors for light-dependent microalgae or, if there is accessible coast, introduce suitable seaweeds, which are not only highly-productive of biomass for fractionation, but use excess nutrients introduced by river and coastal run-off of fertilisers and sewage and provide nurseries for young fish and crustacean larvae.
Once biomass from any source has been put into a manageable state, separation of components can begin, from high-fibre polymers and oligomers, anti-oxidant pigments and still-to-be-explored bioactives, to starches, oils and proteins, even before the energy value of the residues are exploited.
Circular economy is stimulating innovation
The drive for innovation can be harnessed not only into a research aspect of exploring and exploiting all the molecules present, but into the technological side – engineering innovation is needed for down-stream processing, especially the steps involving de-watering – and into market-making for the end-products.
So, addressing the potential of the circular bioeconomy using agricultural, food and aquatic biomass can thus provide stimulus for innovation to everyone from academic scientists to market-makers via farmers, engineers and processors.
Contact me if you’d like an opportunities analysis and advice on possibilities in this area for your company or research activity: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Commission Notice 2018/C 133/02 Guidelines for the feed use of food no longer intended for human consumption OJ 16.4.2018