The UK government should focus on 10 specific bio-based chemicals to boost industrial growth, jobs, trade and investment in the UK, says a new report.
Bio-based chemicals are produced from plants, rather than petroleum. They are set to disrupt the global chemicals industry by replacing toxic or environmentally damaging petro-chemicals in many products and processes. The UKBioChem10 report identifies the 10 leading bio-based chemicals where the UK has the opportunity to take the global lead.
The report was developed by LBNet, sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), in consultation with leading biotechnology and chemistry experts from business, academia and the public sector.
Global trends towards sustainability and reduced emissions are driving demand for greener chemicals, presenting major business opportunities. The top 10 includes green chemicals that can be used to make biodegradable plastics, superabsorbent sanitary products, nylon, perfumes, skin creams and detergents. These products create billions of pounds of global revenue and are all currently made from petroleum.
The 10 bio-based chemicals were agreed based on commercial viability, UK strengths to exploit, functionality and sustainability. They are:
1. Lactic acid: Used to make PLA, which can be used for biodegradable plastics
2. 2,5-Furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA): A stronger alternative to PET, which is used to make plastic bottles, food packaging and carpets
3. Levoglucosenone: A safer alternative to toxic solvents used in pharmaceutical manufacturing, flavours and fragrances.
4. 5 Hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF): A building block for plastics and polyesters
5. Muconic acid: It's derivatives could replace non-sustainable chemicals used in the production of plastics and nylon fibres
6. Itaconic acid: A replacement for petroleum-based acrylic acid, used to make absorbent materials for nappies; and resins used in high-performance marine and automotive components.
7. 1,3-Butanediol: A building block for high value products including pheromones, fragrances, insecticides, antibiotics and synthetic rubber
8. Glucaric acid: Prevents deposits of limescale and dirt on fabric or dishes, providing a green replacement for phosphate-based detergents
9. Levulinic acid: Used in the production of environmentally friendly herbicides, flavour and fragrance ingredients, skin creams and degreasers
10. n-Butanol: Used in a wide range of polymers and plastics, as a solvent in a wide variety of chemical and textile processes and as a paint thinner
Bio-based chemicals represent a dynamic area of innovation in the UK, which could become a world leader in this emerging industry. The UK has an important research lead in these chemicals, and the infrastructure and global supply chains to exploit them.
Moving from research to commercial products is an area where the UK traditionally fails. Focused support for these chemicals will ensure we exploit our early lead to deliver commercial value to the UK and ensure that jobs and investment are created here.
The UKBiochem10 report urges government and businesses to take five steps:
- Focus time and resources on these chemicals, and review focus regularly
- Support partnerships and networks which link universities, SMEs and industry around bio-based chemicals
- Focus research funding on developing cost-effective ways to produce these chemicals
- Build UK biochemical testing and scale-up capabilities
- Incentivise use of bio-based chemicals by leading by example and mandating bio-based materials in government procurement
Simon McQueen-Mason, LBNet Network Director, says: "Bio-based chemicals are set to disrupt the chemicals industry. It is important that the UK - a global leader in chemicals - is at the heart of that revolution. If we don¹t support such breakthrough technology now, other countries will benefit from our research and out-compete us, whilst our existing chemicals industry loses its edge.
"Just as oil underpinned the development of now ubiquitous plastics, textiles, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics in the last century, bio-based chemicals are set to replace oil in many products in the next few decades. Investment and policy support now will allow the UK to be a leader in this emerging industry."