The bio-based industry provides major opportunities to convert waste and biomass surplus into environmentally friendly and healthcare products.
Green waste, spent grains from breweries, bakery waste, wool, plant materials, fruit, vegetables and agricultural residues are some of the materials that offer huge potential in recycling innovation.
Across the world moves are being made against plastics as public awareness of their damage rises. A number of companies are launching consumer products made from bio-based ingredients, and significant capital investments in pilot plant expansion are continuing.
Taking a bio-based approach to producing materials, chemical and energy rather than using imported fossil resources creates many opportunities for Europe for a new knowledge and technology-intensive economy, with high-employment potential and reduced environmental impact.
As we look forward to 2019, the bio-based economy can do much more. For example, global production of wool is around 1.1 million tonnes a year, but a large quantity is wasted. The role of sheep farming in a sustainable bio-economy is not recognised very well.
The biggest challenge faced by the industry in ‘doing more’ is that bio-based technology replacement for conventional chemical technologies are currently expensive to operate and potentially affect the development of profitable business models.
How national and international regulations support and encourage use of bio-based technologies and products are also a key factor, as is the shortage of highly-skilled workers in the sector.
At Teesside University, and through our spin-off company TeeGene Biotech, we are leading the way in research and innovation around bio-based processes. We have already developed ways to extract high-value chemicals from algae, plants and micro-organisms.
In particular, we have found ways to develop biosurfactants – which act like soap and help to emulsify liquids – from strains of bacteria. These biosurfactants are made in the lab and are fully biodegradable, with minimal impact on the environment. They have anti-microbial and anti-ageing properties.
Our approach to producing much more economical and cost-efficient biosurfactants in the industries in which they are used – the replacement of traditional synthetic surfactants and emulsifiers in cosmetics and soap, healthcare, paints and coatings, household detergents, industrial and institutional cleaning, personal care, crop protection, oilfield, textiles, construction, leather, mine and mineral processing, pulp and paper and food processing industries – is a key part of the solution.
Dr Pattanathu Rahman is a senior lecturer in microbial biotech at Portsmouth University and director of TeeGene Biotech