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The bioeconomy

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Bioscience is at the heart of many technological advances and has the potential to address some of the world's greatest challenges. BBSRC's research investment underpins the bioeconomy through nurturing world-class research, innovation and training.

What is the bioeconomy?

The bioeconomy is not about just one industry sector or looking at a particular scientific innovation but, encompasses the economic process. The Chairs of the UK’s three bioscience leadership councils, comprising the Industrial biotechnology leadership forum (IBLF), the Agri-technology leadership council (ATLC) and the Synthetic biology leadership council (SBLC), have developed the following definition of the bioeconomy:

“All economic activity derived from bio-based products and processes which contributes to sustainable and resource-efficient solutions to the challenges we face in food, chemicals, materials, energy production, health and environmental protection.”

BBSRC are at the forefront of agencies engaged in securing a strong bioeconomy for the future of the UK. Our investments in sectors including farming, food, biofuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals are supporting the development of the bioeconomy and securing a sustainable and equitable future for us all. To find out what we are doing in these sectors right now, follow the Related Links.

Two independent reports from Capital Economics have also highlighted how bioscience is benefitting the UK economy.


Why is the bioeconomy important?

We face a number of serious global challenges in the coming decades.

  • How do we sustainably feed a rapidly growing population?
    Globally we need to produce 50% more food by 2050 to feed our growing population
  • How will we meet our ever increasing energy needs?
    Demand for energy will grow by 20% in the UK by 2030
  • How do we change our reliance on scarce natural resources?
    Investing in research that investigates using waste for our energy could be worth £500 million a year to the UK economy
  • How do we increase the health of our population across the life-course?
    With one in three babies born today living to 100 we need to ensure that we extend the healthy life-span of the population

All of these challenges can be tackled through the application of research in the biosciences and biotechnology.

These challenges present a huge opportunity for the UK economy. The value of the bioeconomy to the EU is already £1.7 trillion in annual turnover. Ensuring that the UK is at the forefront of this sector could be worth £100 billion annually to the UK economy.

Building the bioeconomy

All BBSRC research investment directly or indirectly engages with and underpins the development of the bioeconomy. We believe that by focussing our investment on key research priority areas we can maximise the economic and social impact of BBSRC funded research both at home and abroad.

Innovations in the lab, from mapping the entire human genome to the development of biofuel replacements for fossil fuels, are all a direct consequence of BBSRC funding and support.

We are also championing new ways of working which has led to the use of big data approaches to managing bioscience information. Consequently researchers are now generating new knowledge at a remarkable and increasing pace.

Programmes and innovations

We have a number of planned programmes and innovations that include:

  • Pre-competitive research programme addressing significant challenges facing the UK food industry, leading for all RCs
  • A major programme in the exploitation of single carbon molecules with Innovate UK and EPSRC
  • Industry-guided research programme addressing the manufacturing industry problem of biofilms with Innovate UK
  • A significant collaborative programme on extracting value from waste
  • New flagship multidisciplinary Centre for Food and Health

To stay up to date with these programmes and all our other funding calls, subscribe to BBSRC funding feed.

Working with partners

The bioeconomy cuts across multiple government departments and we are committed to working in partnership with other research councils and departments to realise the full potential of the bioeconomy for the UK.

Joint working between the research councils has brought many benefits, such as concerted action on training and skills, and investment in major multidisciplinary and international research programmes. Partnerships with other research councils, individually and as part of cross-council and cross-government programmes, will continue to be an important part of our strategy.

Science is increasingly a connected global endeavour and this provides excellent opportunities for leveraging the world leading strength of UK bioscience. BBSRC will work with a wide range of partners - nationally and internationally - to co-fund research and training, enhance our understanding of users' and society's needs and deliver a full range of impacts. This will involve engagement with industry, policy makers and other users around the bioscience that affects them.

As part of on-going work to ensure that the UK effectively harnesses its world-class research and innovation base to develop the bioeconomy, the three bioscience leadership-associated councils (Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum, Agri-tech Leadership Council and Synthetic Biology Leadership Council) instigated a high-level portfolio review of relevant investment from across the research councils, Innovate UK, government departments and devolved administrations.

The review is based on a high level and indicative snapshot of funded research and training over the financial year 2012/13. It classifies research investment according to the following themes:

  • Food (including agricultural research)
  • Chemicals and materials
  • Energy production
  • Health (human)
  • Environmental protection
  • Enabling technologies
  • Understanding successful bioeconomies

Results from the review are presented as a slide set (see downloads).