Research networks


Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (BBSRC NIBB)

BBSRC, with support from EPSRC, have committed approximately £11 million to fund six unique collaborative Networks in Phase II of the Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (BBSRC NIBB) from 2019 to 2024.

BBSRC NIBB Phase II Summary

The second phase of the BBSRC NIBB will build upon the success of the 13 Phase I NIBB and continue to build capacity and capability in the UK supporting research and translation in sustainable, biologically based manufacturing. The Phase II NIBB will continue to foster collaboration between academic researchers and businesses at all levels, using excellent research to tackle research challenges and help deliver key benefits in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy.

These Phase II multidisciplinary networks will drive new ideas to harness the potential of biological resources for producing and processing materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy. The networks organise conferences and events, provide flexible funding for Proof of Concept projects and are open to new members through-out their lifetime.

The six BBSRC NIBB are:

  • Algae-UK: Exploiting the algal treasure trove
  • BBNet: Biomass Biorefinery Network
  • Carbon Recycling – Converting waste derived GHG into chemicals, fuels and animal feed
  • E3B: Elements of Bioremediation, Biomanufacturing & Bioenergy: Metals in Biology
  • EBNet: Environmental Biotechnology Network
  • HVB: High Value Biorenewables Network

Algae-UK: Exploiting the algal treasure trove

Website: Algae-UK
Twitter: @Algae_UK

Saul Purton, University College London
Michelle Stanley, Scottish Association of Marine Science
Patricia Harvey, University of Greenwich
Anna Amtmann, University of Glasgow

Eukaryotic and prokaryotic algae are diverse photosynthetic organisms that have considerable potential as industrial biotechnology (IB) platforms for a wide range of natural and engineered bio-products, from bioplastics and biofuels to high value bioactives. Moreover, cultivation of microalgae or cyanobacteria in closed photobioreactors offers an attractive low carbon alternative to existing heterotrophic technologies, whereas cultivation of macroalgae (seaweeds) offers an alternative to crop cultivation on arable land. The previously funded PHYCONET BBSRC NIBB (which focussed mainly on microalgae) has brought together academic researchers, a fledgling industrial sector and other key stakeholders to create a vibrant, cohesive community of over 700. PHYCONET has significantly raised the profile and interest in microalgal IB within the UK and helped give this community an international voice. Network support has progressed a number of key projects up the TRL scale and catalysed engagement with the wider community. The new network, Algae-UK, will build on this momentum by broadening the remit to encompass macroalgae, and to give more focus to the emerging area of cyanobacterial synthetic biology. It will serve as the hub for the UK algal biosciences research community, businesses operating in the IB sector, and other stakeholders – creating the critical mass of expertise, effort and focus needed to achieve key step-changes and make the UK a leading player in algal biotechnology.

BBNet: Biomass Biorefinery Network

Website: BBNet: Biomass Biorefinery Network
Twitter: @BBNet_NIBB

Simon McQueen Mason, University of York
Dimitris Charalampopoulos, University of Reading
David Leak, University of Bath
Michele Stanley, Scottish Association of Marine Science
Patricia Thornley, Aston University

The world is committed to move to a low carbon economy in the coming decades, requiring a shift from the use of fossil resources to provide power, fuel, chemicals and materials. Sustainable, non-food, biomass provides a low carbon alternative to petroleum to provide liquid fuels and chemicals for transport and manufacturing. The UK has a world leading science base that can drive innovation and take advantage of the multi-billion pound opportunities created by the switch from fossil carbon.

BBNet will emphasise translational research that encompasses sustainable biomass provision through to processing and production of fuels, chemicals and materials; encouraging genomic, synthetic and systems biology approaches in the research we sponsor. Feedstocks will include agricultural and forest residues, food industry and brewing waste, municipal and commercial solid waste, marine biomass and biomass crops. Our remit will encompass bioprocessing, bio-catalysis and fermentation of biomass, and will embrace chemical conversion and engineering. We will work with Supergen Bioenergy and other Phase II BBSRC NIBB to develop joint areas that combine our complementary communities. We will bring together expertise from the bioscience, chemistry, engineering, environment, mathematics, economics, social and policy sectors to drive technological innovation through to market adoption founded on economic, social and environmental sustainability.

BBNet will energise the UK bio-based sector and make the UK an attractive place for international companies to develop new technologies. We will bring together the industry and academic players needed to drive innovation, and provide resources to catalyse their activities. BBNet will provide an information hub to gather sector intelligence to inform policy makers, researchers and businesses, and help develop an enabling regulatory framework for innovation.

Carbon Recycling – Converting waste derived GHG into chemicals, fuels and animal feed

Website: Carbon Recycling – Converting waste derived GHG into chemicals, fuels and animal feed
Twitter: @CCnetNIBB

Nigel Minton, University of Nottingham
Brigitte Nerlich, University of Nottingham
Sonia Heaven, University of Southampton
Saul Purton, University College London
William Zimmerman, University of Sheffield
Mark Poolman, Oxford Brookes University

Two of the greatest challenges facing society are the future sustainable production of chemicals, fuels and protein for animal feed, while at the same time reducing GHG emissions. One of the few, readily available UK feedstocks are single carbon gases, generated either as side products of existing industrial processes or through the deliberate processing of biomass wastes and residues. They are available in high volumes and at low cost UK-wide. Autotrophic or phototrophic microbial chassis able to utilise these resources can be engineered to synthesise a broad array of requisite molecules in scalable biological processes.

The Network will focus on the development of the requisite engineered chassis and the required scalable processes. It will expand the scope of C1net, which focussed specifically on gas fermentation, to include closed, photosynthetic processes reliant on waste CO2. The Network will be underpinned by sustainable exploitation of AD-derived biogas (CO2 and CH4) as a feedstock for C1 chassis process development.

E3B: Elements of Bioremediation, Biomanufacturing & Bioenergy: Metals in Biology

Website: E3B: Elements of Bioremediation, Biomanufacturing & Bioenergy: Metals in Biology

Nigel Robinson, Durham University
Martin Warren, University of Kent
Jonathan Lloyd, The University of Manchester

About a half of the reactions of life are catalysed by metals. This means that a large proportion of bio-industries depend directly, or indirectly, on the catalytic activities of metals in proteins. Bioinorganic chemists have become expert in tuning and optimising such metal sites in proteins to drive valuable reactions. Network members from academia will work with members from the biomanufacturing and bioenergy sectors to enhance the activities of metalloenzymes in order to generate new products and to increase the profitability of existing products.

Some metals form more stable complexes with proteins than do others, often by millions of orders of magnitude. To populate some proteins with competitive metals and others with less competitive metals, cells have elaborate systems that precisely control the relative availabilities of different elements, in effect ‘levelling the playing field’ to support the diversity of vital metalation-reactions. Biochemists have learnt how to measure these crucial metal availabilities making it possible to identify when an enzyme is prone to mis-metalation or under-metalation in a cell grown under process conditions.

In turn, this allows cell biologists to manipulate the culture conditions, or molecular biologists to manipulate the host cell, to optimise metalation. Network members from the biomanufacturing and bioenergy sectors will work with biochemists and molecular biologists in academia to enhance metalation and thereby provide more consistent product quality and yield. About a half of wastes are contaminated with metals (often in conjunction with inorganic compounds) and environmental biologists can not only bio-remediate but also bio-recover metals in valuable forms such as catalytic metal nanoparticles. Members from multiple companies will work with environmental biologists and others in academia to valorise metal contaminated wastes.

This network will consolidate the activities of communities working on Metals in Biology to accelerate the exploitation of research relevant to industrial biotechnology and bioenergy.

EBNet: Environmental Biotechnology Network

Website: EBNet: Environmental Biotechnology Network
Twitter: @EBNetUK

Sonia Heaven, University of Southampton
Frederic Coulon, Cranfield University
Tom Curtis, Newcastle University
Tony Gutierrez, Heriot-Watt University
Jhuma Sadhukhan, University of Surrey

Microbial systems provide a range of environmental protection and bioremediation services, forming the basis for some of the world’s largest industries across the Water-Wastes-Soil nexus. Development of such systems to date has been largely empirical and incremental, but the pace is changing in response to the need to match expanding global demand with finite resources. There are also new challenges to address, ranging from the emergence of new micro-pollutants to the requirement for efficient closed-loop systems that combine treatment with resource recovery.

The current revolution in biological and analytical sciences is creating tools that give unprecedented insights into these systems from genetic to community level, and into factors that can potentially be used to control and harness them. At the same time new approaches allow enhanced measurement and modelling of engineering phenomena such as mixing and mass transfer; while advances in materials science and separation technologies provide the potential for selective retention of microbial biomass and/or removal of final and intermediate metabolic products. These developments thus offer a chance to optimise existing treatment processes, and to create more sustainable ‘future-proof’ technologies in new areas of application.

Successful exploitation of these opportunities depends, however, on bringing together an enhanced knowledge of the underlying science with the ability to apply this in large-scale engineered systems, which must meet both societal expectations and increasingly stringent economic and environmental requirements. The aim of EBNet is thus to develop and strengthen links between advanced molecular and applied microbiology, engineering and systems optimisation to maximise societal and other benefits. Its overall goal is to take fundamental discovery science towards practical application in key areas of the human/environment interface.

HVB: High Value Biorenewables Network

HVB: High Value Biorenewables Network
Twitter: @HVB_net

Ian Graham, University of York
Anne Osbourn, John Innes Centre
Joe Ross, University of York

Discovering, developing and producing high value biorenewable feedstocks using industrial biotechnology approaches is a very attractive proposition to industry world-wide, providing the potential to supersede environmentally damaging, petrochemical-derived products.

The High Value Biorenewables Network will facilitate partnership between UK academia and industry, which is essential if we are to fully realise this opportunity for the UK’s benefit. We have world-leading academic research in this space and many companies that could benefit from it.

Technical expertise in analytical chemistry, phytochemistry, bioinformatics and genomics are essential components in the discovery stage of projects. Biocatalysis, biotransformation and metabolic engineering of host platforms and/or development of cell culture or whole organism production platforms are essential to progress opportunities. Other disciplines, like mathematics and computational modelling, can contribute to challenges arising from vast data sets. In addition, environmental and social scientists and economists can study life cycle analysis, consumer acceptance and economics of new processes. Furthermore, engagement of organisations such as the Biorenewables Development Centre and BiopilotsUK will take projects out of the research laboratory in cases where direct uptake/scale-up by industry is not feasible.

HVB members will represent many disciplines and cross-disciplinary approaches will be promoted to take ideas beyond proof of concept, so that issues such as scale-up design, freedom of access and regulatory approval are addressed at an early stage. Inspirational leadership will be provided by academic experts in complementary disciplines and a Management Board with a majority of industry representatives. HVB will facilitate networking, identify and fund training in areas of need, inspire new interest and ideas, and evaluate and fund proof of concept research and enterprise activities that are endorsed and supported by industry.

BBSRC NIBB Phase I Summary

The 13 Phase I BBSRC NIBB were:

  1. ADNet: Anaerobic Digestion Network (Charles Banks, University of Southampton)
  2. Biocatnet: Network in Biocatalyst Discovery, Development and Scale-Up. (Nicholas Turner, The University of Manchester)
  3. BioProNET: Bioprocessing Network. (Christopher Smales, University of Kent)
  4. C1NET: Chemicals from C1 Gas. (Nigel Minton, The University of Nottingham)
  5. CBMNet: Crossing biological membranes. (Jeff Green, The University of Sheffield)
  6. FoodWasteNet: Food Processing Waste and By-Products Utilisation Network. (Dimitris Charalampopoulos, University of Reading)
  7. HVCfP: High Value Chemicals from Plants Network. (Ian Graham, The University of York)
  8. IBCarb: Glycoscience Tools for Biotechnology and Bioenergy. (Sabine Flitsch, The University of Manchester)
  9. LBNet: Lignocellulosic Biorefinery Network. (Simon McQueen Mason, The University of York)
  10. Metals in Biology: The elements of Biotechnology and Bioenergy. (Nigel Robinson, Durham University)
  11. NPRONET: Natural Products Discovery and Bioengineering Network. (Jason Micklefield, The University of Manchester)
  12. P2P: A Network of Integrated Technologies: Plants to Products. (David Leak, The University of Bath)
  13. PHYCONET: unlocking the IB potential of microalgae. (Saul Purton, University College London)


You can ask us any question you might have.

Chloë Heywood

Telephone: 01793 413225

Rod Westrop

Telephone: 01793 413332

Last updated: 12 January 2022

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