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Industrial Biotechnology for Improving Production of Higher Value Chemicals

Call status: Open for applications
Call Closes: 16 January 2020, 16:00 BST


BBSRC invite applications to a funding call in Industrial Biotechnology for Improving Production of Higher Value Chemical. There is up to £2M available for grants to support short collaborative projects of between 12 to 24 months with a value up to £250K.

The call will support research translation to address challenges in applying bioprocesses for improving the production of higher value chemicals and aims to accelerate the de-risking of IB processes and help bridge the gap to larger-scale projects and further public or private investment.

Multidisciplinary and collaborative projects will enable the translation of research into industrial processes, supporting the development of post-proof of concept research progressing it towards technology readiness levels (TRLs) 3, 4 and 5. Collaborations with industry will be compulsory to help direct research toward industrially relevant challenges and support the translation of bioprocesses into an industrial environment.


The UK Chemicals industry generates £9bn gross value added (GVA) per year, employs 105,000 people, and is one of the highest energy intensive industrial sectors. There is a strong industry driver to reduce carbon emissions, and consumer demand for more sustainable products, which move away from using fossil-based carbon to manufacture chemicals. These increased drivers for sustainability mean that the industry is open to innovation that will lead to more sustainable manufacturing practices.

Modern bioscience technologies and multidisciplinary approaches have the potential to enable the industry to address this challenge, through the production of chemicals via bioprocesses, and the manufacturing of bio-based chemicals from non-fossil fuel-based feedstocks. This approach can reduce emissions and address sustainability issues by reducing demands on fossil fuels, lowering the energy costs of traditional chemical process, and permitting the development of novel materials with improved properties.

UK Government strategies also support these changes, for example through the UK Clean Growth Strategy which highlights the impact of the chemicals industry and includes priorities for low carbon innovation, clean energy innovation, energy efficiency, carbon capture usage and storage and zero waste by 2050. The UK Bioeconomy Strategy, which recognises the potential of bioscience and has the vision that in 2030 the UK is a global leader in developing, manufacturing, using and exporting bio-based solutions. In addition, the Chemistry Council’s strategy states that biotechnology has an increasing role to play in the chemicals industry delivering advanced materials and molecules, creating a pipeline of green supply chains including waste to feedstocks and supporting clean growth by rebuilding cost competitive and carbon efficient supply chains.

Industry is open to innovation that will lead to more sustainable manufacturing practices. However, currently the economic case for the application of many of these innovations only works for higher value chemicals vs commodity chemicals produced in bulk with lower market values. The value of products need to compensate for the investment required to apply new technologies and infrastructure, such that chemicals produced in this way can compete with those manufactured traditionally.

The projects funded through this call will accelerate the de-risking of IB processes and help bridge the gap to larger-scale projects and further public or private investment.


BBSRC consulted with industry and the academic community to better understand BBSRC’s role in enabling bioscience to support the desired innovation, building on investments in this area to date. The consultation led to a report which provides an overview of the current drivers within the sector. The report outlines the research challenges that need to be addressed in applying bioprocessing to improve the production of higher value chemicals (see pages 14 – 16). The consultation also highlighted the support required to address these research challenges and this call aims to address some of those gaps.

The full report of this consultation exercise can be found here.

Projects should focus on the production of speciality, performance/effect, and fine chemicals that are considered to be of high market value. Examples of these include (but are not exclusive to):

  • surfactants
  • polysaccharides
  • micronutrients
  • natural flavour and fragrances
  • silks
  • next generation adhesives
  • protein structures
  • chelates
  • butanol acetone for esters and solvents
  • active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs)
  • pharmaceutical intermediates
  • antibiotics
  • peptides
  • enzymes
  • hormones.

Macromolecular proteins for therapeutic use are out of scope. Commodity chemicals made in bulk which have multiple different applications and have a low market value are also out of scope.

Research projects must address challenges in manufacturing a chemical using a biological process i.e. using microorganisms or enzymes. The bioprocess can be used in the conversion of either biomass feedstocks or precursor chemicals to chemicals or biological products e.g. peptides and enzymes. The bioprocess should address one of the following three drivers:

  1. Manufacturing higher quality products e.g. producing chiral molecules with high levels of stereo-selectivity or reducing levels of impurities giving a higher quality/ purer product.
  2. Reducing manufacturing costs e.g. by reducing the number of stages required in multiple stage processes, reducing downstream purification costs due to fewer impurities, lowering energy costs by avoiding the need for extreme temperatures, or reducing/avoiding the need for co-factors and/or heavy metals catalysts.
  3. Sustainability: bioprocesses can lead to more sustainable products and manufacturing methods by those outlined in II as well as utilising bio-based/waste feedstocks and providing alternatives to harvesting crops that can have high environmental impact through high water consumption or land clearance.

Applicant eligibility

In order to be eligible for an award, proposed applications should:

  • fulfil the standard BBSRC eligibility criteria outlined in the BBSRC Grants Guide
  • include a collaborating industry partner to help direct research toward industrially relevant challenges and support the translation of bioprocesses into an industrial environment. A signed copy of the collaboration agreement should be submitted to BBSRC within three months of the proposed start time of the project.

Application process

The call has one stage of application, including a panel meeting, but with no external peer review. Proposals are invited from 5 November 2019 with a closing date of 16 January 2020.

To ensure a proposal is submitted on time we suggest that it should be sent to your institution’s Je-S submitter pool approximately a week before this deadline. Please note that we are unable to accept late submissions.

Guidance on completing the full proposal submission can be found on the Je-S Website. For any JeS related queries, please refer to the Je-S Handbook, or contact the Je-S helpdesk:


Phone: +44 (0) 1793 444164

All attachments must be completed using standard font and margin sizes. The sections of the form not mentioned below should be completed in accordance with standard practice when applying for BBSRC grants, further details can be found via the BBSRC Grants Guide. Incomplete applications may be withdrawn from consideration.

Submit your proposal through the Research Councils' Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system by 4pm on 16 January 2020. Late applications will not be accepted.


For enquieries, please contact the Higher Value Chemicals team: