Norway, UK outline 7 ways to develop biorefining industry

| June 23, 2011

Norway and the U.K. are looking for opportunities in the biorefining industry, and the two countries have signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the hopes that they can find those synergies together. Innovation Norway and the U.K.’s Technology Strategy Board have completed a report identifying both the short- and long-term areas for growth and potential within the biorefining sector. “An assessment of the market pull for different products, the availability of raw materials and expertise and infrastructure in the U.K. and Norway resulted in the identification of a number of areas where the countries have mutual or synergistic interests and expertise,” stated a report on the joint venture’s capabilities.

For the short term, three key areas of opportunity were recognized. First, both countries could benefit from “using microalgae for omega oils for the aquaculture industry and for bioactive ingredients for the consumer goods industries.” Second, the two recognized an opportunity in utilizing marine wastes “as a source of bioactive molecules for the consumer goods industry.” And the last area the countries can benefit from in the short-term is the use of woody biomass for bulk chemicals and fuels.

“These opportunities are the starting point for a more detailed investigation of innovation needs and the underpinning research required to realize these opportunities,” the report said. To help jumpstart research and development in those areas, the countries intend to hold a series of workshops and visits.

For the long term, the joint venture sees one opportunity in using lignin from the pulping industry for feedstock to make high-value chemicals, and the use of macroalgae for chemicals and fuels production.

Based on both the long- and short-term outlooks, the report, “Capabilities and Opportunities for Joint Working on Biorefining and Industrial Biotechnology,” also provides seven recommendations.

1. Developing Collaborative Ventures. The report recognizes that “the specialty-chemical-using industries are secretive about products in development,” and because of that, prefer to only discuss what functionalities are desirable for their product ranges. Because of that, the report recommends that initial meetings should focus on the specific areas that participating institutions can bring to any joint venture project. “This will aid the specialty chemicals industry to identify to what extent each of the interested parties could help in the development of specific bioactivities of interest,” the report said, adding that this will help to create more focused and “confidential discussions on opportunities,” probably under nondisclosure agreements. As opposed to the specialty chemical markets, however, the report pointed out that the bulk chemical markets will be much easier to work with.

2. Stimulating relationships between enterprises in each country. To do this, the report recommends exchanging academic research personnel in the areas of fermentation, macroalgae cultivation, marine biobanks and biocatalysis.

3. Identifying stakeholders. The report notes that while some have been identified, the joint venture needs to do a better job of both finding and promoting new or existing stakeholders.

4. Special consideration for industrial stakeholders. This would require a greater exchange of information between the industrial stakeholders as to how any collaborative efforts would benefit each party.

5. Focusing on the European Framework Programme. By putting a focus and effort in this program, the report said the joint venture may have the opportunity for additional funding.

6. Review of others currently participating in the biorefining sector for additional funding as well.

7. Like five and six, the final recommendation again pointed to the need to find funding areas. The report estimates that around $2 million worth of public funding would be needed to support roughly four projects, if the public funding was matched by industrial funding.

“While there are already links between the U.K. and Norway in a number of areas,” the report concluded, “such links have developed spontaneously rather than through any concerted action.”

The report was completed by Adrian Higson, head of biorefining, and Claire Smith, technology research officer, both from the U.K.’s National Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials.