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Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in the Developing World

Copyright: Pascale Gueret/iStock/Thinkstock

Call status: Closed
Previous call: 16 April 2018 - 6 June 2018


BBSRC is pleased to announce a total of £5 million for Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in the Developing World and aims to support a number of collaborative research projects addressing challenges relating to industrial biotechnology and bioenergy in the developing world.

This call will develop the potential to utilise different biogenic feedstocks (for example crop residues) for the purpose of generating multiple (valuable) products (for example energy, pharmaceutical/ chemical precursors and clean water) in a sustainable way using biotechnologies to help support economic and welfare activities in the developing world.

The call is funded from the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). As well as being scientifically excellent, research supported under it must meet the criteria for classification of expenditure as Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Funds can be requested for up to three years and projects must be completed by 1 February 2022. Applications must not exceed a maximum of £2 million (at 100% of their full economic cost).


The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. Alongside the other GCRF delivery partners we are creating complementary programmes that:

  • promote challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, including the participation of researchers who may not previously have considered the applicability of their work to development issues
  • strengthen capacity for research, innovation and knowledge exchange in the UK and developing countries through partnership with excellent UK research and researchers
  • provide an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need.

GCRF forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment, which is monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Further information is available from the UK Research and Innovation website (see external links).

The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is part of OECD (see external links).

The DAC list of ODA recipients designed for statistical purposes. It helps to measure and classify aid and other resource flows originating in donor countries. It is not designed as guidance for aid or other preferential treatment.

It includes all low- and middle-income countries (as defined by the World Bank, based on gross national income [GNI] per capita), except for those that are members of the G8 or the European Union (including countries with a firm accession date for EU membership). In addition, the list separately includes all Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as defined by the UN.

Aims and objectives

Industrial biotechnology is the use of biological resources for producing and processing materials, chemicals and energy. These resources include animal cells, plants, algae, marine life, fungi and micro-organisms.

This call seeks proposals to support collaborative research projects that will:

  • Use excellent research involving biological systems to solve key problems in the developing world
  • Utilise widely available biogenic feedstocks and through the application of biological systems, convert those feedstocks to generate multiple (valuable) products
  • Use the products generated to support improved economic and welfare developments in the hosting country.

Integral to the call will be appropriate chemical and engineering approaches alongside the use of biological mechanisms to ensure processes will function effectively.

There is a large unmet need in the developing world covering a range of non-food and non-clinical applications and industrial biotechnology can help meet many of those needs, leading to wealth generation and sustained economic development.

For example in sub-Saharan Africa over 40% of the population live in absolute poverty and 620 million live without electricity. Over 730 million people rely on dangerous inefficient forms of cooking and the use of solid biomass outweighs all other forms of fuel. In addition 600,000 people die each year from pulmonary diseases directly attributed to using this biomass as fuel. Overall biomass use leads to deforestation, subsistence farming and poor health and alternatives to burning biomass for cooking (for example local or domestic biogas generation) are desperately sought. Poor waste management has led to badly polluted water systems especially in semi urban areas with the resultant problems in health and in land and water sustainability. Effective bio-based solutions to these problems will make a significant contribution to health and welfare of the local communities (ref 1, ref 2).

The African Union has recognised the importance of harnessing biotechnology as a part of Africa’s economic development and has been developing a co-evolutionary approach where technology development progresses hand in hand with regulation to ensure that the continent gets the economic benefits without compromising the safety of its people and environment and loses aspects of its key biomass through exploitation. Adaption to climate change is a high priority for those regions which are most impoverished and most vulnerable to its effects.

Industrial biotechnology has the potential to unlock these cycles of poverty by simultaneously remediating land, air and water, developing energy security, job creation, income diversification, rural development and improvements in the general health of the population as well as an impact on carbon emissions to reduce the consequences of climate change.

This Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored call will allow the development of collaborative research projects between the UK’s world class industrial biotechnology community and colleagues and institutions in the developing world. Through these collaborative research projects, it is anticipated that a new generation of researchers and technologies will be developed ensuring continuation of the benefits gained from the project for the partner DAC country.


This call for proposals seeks to support research projects that will use industrial biotechnologies to allow the extraction of multiple products from biogenic feedstocks, delivering sustainable economic and welfare benefits to the hosting country or community.

Proposals should therefore contain a clear demonstration that they utilise the power of industrial biotechnology to deliver a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future in the partner country. Proposals will need to meet the definition of industrial biotechnology: applicants will need to clearly indicate the feedstocks on which their projects are based, the biological processes involved and the outputs in terms of materials, chemicals and energy. Applicants should note that food and animal feed are not the primary outputs of industrial biotechnology research.

Proposals should include relevant activities in genomic, systems and synthetic biology and will need to consider the ethical, legal social and environmental impacts of the chosen approach.

There are multiple areas of opportunity for proposals including:

  • Developing methods to clean up contaminated land and water to restore land for use by the local community with the possibility of revalorising waste-streams, using biological systems to recover for example valuable metals (often as potentially valuable bio-nanomaterials)
  • Using plants grown on marginal land for medicinal or veterinary products or precursors and extracting maximum value from the plant material so yielding fibre, fertiliser and energy carriers (fuel)
  • Using microorganisms to process residues including waste water, generating energy carriers (for example methane) and clean water
  • Converting crop and food residues to biogas providing sustainable energy for local or regional communities.

The expected output of each project will work toward the development of a conceptual biorefinery and will encompass not just the scientific research, but socioeconomic values of the collaborative research as well.

All proposals submitted to this call should therefore:

  • Demonstrate the research proposed is scientifically excellent
  • Identify and address a specific problem or seek a specific outcome which will impact on the economic development and welfare of a developing country or countries on the DAC list in the immediate or longer term
  • Provide evidence on the scale of the problem being addressed to the developing world
  • Demonstrate the co-design of a collaborative research project between UK academics and academics from relevant institutions in the partner DAC country that address the problem
  • Articulate a clear and specific case for the primary benefit and relevance of the proposed research to countries on the DAC list
  • Consider the pathway to realising the development impact (even if outside the timeframe of the project).

Official Development Assistance

This call is funded from BBSRC’s allocation of the GCRF and forms part of the UK’s ODA. As well as being scientifically excellent, research supported under the call must meet the criteria for classification of expenditure as ODA, as defined by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Further information is provided in the guidance for applicants.

Applicants must demonstrate that the primary purpose of their proposed research is to promote the economic development and welfare of people in the DAC partner country. The scale and breadth of its potential impact will be an important consideration in the assessment of proposals.

Project scale and duration

Up to £5 million is available, subject to the quality of proposals received, with the aim of supporting a balanced portfolio of around three to five projects across the scope of the call. Applications must not exceed a maximum of £2 million (at 100% of their full economic cost).

Funds can be requested for up to three years. Projects are expected to be completed by 1 February 2022.


Applications will be rejected before peer review for proposals which:

  • are not predominantly within BBSRC’s remit
  • are outside the scope of the call
  • do not have ODA relevance
  • request funding for ineligible individuals or organisations.


The call is open only to individuals and organisations normally eligible to apply to the UK research councils for research grants, details of which are on the UK Research and Innovation website.

Applications must be led by an eligible PI in the UK.

As well as UK researchers normally eligible for BBSRC funding, applications may include (for this call only) eligible Co-Is based in any of the DAC countries listed in the application downloads section below. Full details of eligibility for this call are provided in the guidance for applicants. BBSRC strongly recommend that there should be an integrated partnership with UK academics and researchers from DAC listed countries that is integral to the application.

Information about the funding that may be requested is provided in the guidance for applicants, along with instructions on how costs should be entered in the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system and, for DAC listed countries the additional Overseas Resource Requests spreadsheet.

How to apply

This call is closed to applications.

Applications must be submitted via the Je-S system by 6 June 2018, 16:00.

A single application should be submitted by the research organisation of the UK PI on behalf of all participating organisations.

All applicants named on the Je-S form must be registered as users of the system well before the application is submitted. Guidance on how to create an account is in the Je-S Handbook. Applications cannot be processed if this has not been done.

Full details of the submission process and documentation required are provided in the guidance for applicants below.


Call opens 16 April 2018
Application deadline 6 June 2018, 16:00
Funding decisions November/December 2018
Projects to start 3 January 2019


  1. Research Challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa - Workshop and meeting results - ADNet Workshop report
  2. Building UK - Africa Partnerships in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy. P2P network report


Roderick Westrop and Alexandra Winn

Related calls: crops energy GCRF industrial biotechnology multidisciplinary plants