Looking back to my student days of my undergraduate course in Industrial Biotechnology in Dublin City University, little did I know then that two decades later I would be writing a blog on the subject!
My esteemed lecturers were in no doubt as to the credentials of the discipline; rudimentary industrial biotechnology dates back to at least 6000 B.C. when Neolithic cultures fermented grapes to make wine, and Babylonians used microbial yeasts to make beer. Over time, mankind's knowledge of fermentation increased, enabling the production of cheese, yogurt, vinegar, and other food products. However, it was only after World War II, that the biotechnology revolution began, giving rise to modern industrial biotechnology.
My team at Interface, in providing a central point of access for businesses in all sectors to collaborate with Scottish academia, see the benefits of industrial biotechnology at first hand. For example Agrico Ltd, Hatton of Ogilvy Farms and Edinburgh Napier University’s Biofuel Research Centre have initiated a multi-party collaboration to develop a process of using rejected potatoes for the production of high value commodity chemicals and biofuels as well as to map the supply chain of waste potatoes. The aim is to reduce waste and provide a source of income for potato producers and users through the production of biofuels which can be used for power and heating as well as have the potential to produce animal feed.
Waste potatoes are not the only feedstock for fermentation in action. Another project we have enabled brings together a group of Fruit Growers, Scottish Biofuels Programme Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot Watt University (ICBD), UK Biochar Centre at University of Edinburgh, plus Strathleven Distillery and the confectioners Aldomak. The project aimed to add value to soft fruit industry waste and losses, by integrating a number of recognised biological (yeast fermentation, ABE fermentation) and thermal processes (pyrolysis) into a value chain, producing added value alcoholic products, fuel, fertiliser and chemicals. This will offer multiple benefits to the industry, such as, resource efficiency, reduced CO2 emissions, additional revenue streams from new product sales, as well as cost savings on waste disposal, fuel and fertiliser.
AMT (Advanced Microwave Technologies) are a company Interface has worked with on numerous occasions predominantly in the food and drink industry. AMT had known for some time that microwave technology had been applied in some industrial biotechnology processes, but none had been exploited at industrial-scale. Through becoming a member of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) they have been introduced to people whose focus is industrial biotechnology and it has given them the confidence and the information needed to understand how they can engage with industrial biotechnology.
The application of biotechnology to industrial processes is not only transforming how we manufacture products but is also providing us with new products that I could not even imagine a few years ago, spending many hours in the pilot plant sampling fermentation cycles. And what’s more food and drink, textiles, chemical and life sciences, environmental and agricultural companies are all benefiting.
Accelerating progress in developing more economic and sustainable manufacturing processes through the integration of biotechnology is well and truly underway through multi-party collaborations between industry and academia in Scotland – we look forward to hearing of further successes in the future. Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight is the annual celebration of the best that Scotland's vibrant larder has to offer. Celebrations will take place across the country to support and promote Scotland’s produce, and the people who grow, make, cook and sell it. 2016’s Fortnight will take place 3rd - 18th of September.