Time is ripe for synthetic biology, industrial biotechnology — upcoming EFIB

Research and development in industrial biotechnology contributes to the growing European bioeconomy which, according to the European Commission, is worth around 614 billion euros and provides approximately 17.5 million jobs.

The leading industrial biotechnology event that engages key stakeholders in this sector is the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy (EFIB) which opens in Vienna next week running from Wednesday, 6 October until Thursday, 7 October.

The EFIB Forum will be held face-to-face which comes as a relief to many deprived of networking opportunities since the outbreak of the Corona virus pandemic in January 2020. Scientific partners from the Horizon 2020/BBI JU projects SUSFERT and SUSBIND are on the speaker’s list over the two day event, and will be at Stand 5 for networking opportunities, hosted by communication partner RTDS.

BBI JU Executive Director, Philippe Mengal, plans to visit the RTDS stand on Wednesday, 5pm where he will meet RTDS CEO, Stephen Webb, and key scientists who are making considerable contributions to the circular bioeconomy.

SUSFERT partners, Acies Bio, a microbiology technology developer, and Sappi, a leading global provider of renewable wood fibre, will speak about the challenges that biotechnology faces including building value in enabling scale up, and even share their best practices to avoid R&D bottlenecks, amongst other things.

Is biotech R&D living up to the challenge?

Acies Bio Director for Research & Development, Gregor Kosec, says that the time is ripe for synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology. Photo: Courtesy of Acies Bio.

SUSFERT partner, Acies Bio Director for Research & Development, Gregor Kosec, will share insights into methods Acies has perfected to turn industrial biotech projects into commercially viable products. His presentation on Thursday, 7 October titled “Targeting R&D bottlenecks and building value in industrial biotechnology” will be presented in the session Sustainable finance: Building value and enabling scale-up (9:00 – 10:30

Speaking before the event, Kosec said that the time was ripe for synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology.

“Never before have so many hopes been laid into our ability to partner with nature and engineer microbes to produce most of the things that make our life comfortable, and that we are currently generating from fossil fuels. The need and desire to change are finally here among most developed economies and societies,” Kosec said.

“But I ask myself whether biotech R&D is living up to the challenge. The past two decades have seen an enormous increase in our capacity to harness and artificially generate a great diversity of enzymes, metabolic pathways and microbial cells at ever-decreasing costs. We are seeing fantastic scientific breakthroughs in the types of bioproducts that cell factories can produce, from new medicines to fragrances, colourants, agriculture biologicals and more. Nevertheless, we are still not seeing industrial biotechnology, on a massive scale, outcompeting 20th-century chemical production processes based on fossil fuels and depreciated production facilities.

“At Acies Bio we recognize that generating diversity is only the first step towards disrupting the markets and creating value. Among millions, you have to identify the variant with an optimal phenotype, choose the suitable chassis strain and feedstock, develop an industrial bioprocess and finally bring it to scale. These will be the real bottlenecks in the next decade.”
He continued that the bottlenecks were able to be overcome using Acies Bio’s integrated SmartRoute  R&D platform we are bringing value to SynBio platforms and projects like OneCarbonBioTM or SUSFERT. “We are able to quickly advance towards commercially applicable technology by combining our passion for understanding diverse microbes, automating phenotype selection procedures on microfluidic scale and quickly scaling up to several m3 scale,” he explained.

Lignosulfonate-based polymers in the biobased economy

Chemical Engineer Biorefinery Sappi Europe, Nikolaus Schwaiger, will be speaking about the significant developments that lignosulfonate-based polymers, sourced from sustainably managed forests and plantations, could make to the growing biobased economy. He will be present at Stand 5 to explain his work at Sappi and on SUSFERT. Photo: Courtesy of Sappi.

Chemical Engineer Biorefinery Sappi Europe, Nikolaus Schwaiger, will speak about the significant developments on “Lignosulfonate-based polymers in the biobased economy” on Thursday, 7 October, in the session titled In the spotlight: Sharing circular bioeconomy best practices. (11:00 – 12:15 CET).

“Our products are manufactured from woodfibre, sourced from sustainably managed forests and plantations, in production facilities powered, in many cases, with bioenergy from steam and existing waste streams, and many of our operations are energy self-sufficient,” Schwaiger said.

Additionally, the SUSFERT partner will join BBI JU Executive Director, Philippe Mengal, and Sustainability and External Affairs Lead, Cargill Bioindustrial, Marty Muenzmaier, on the podium for EFIB’s final session OUTLOOK: The pathway to the future for industrial biotechnology.

The projects

SUSFERT is developing new biobased fertilisers to reduce dependency on unsustainable phosphorus imports into the EU. These fertilisers include novel controlled-release coatings from lignin as well as lignosulfonate-based soil improvers originating from wood pulp.  Waste sidestreams such as struvite is utilised to substitute imported phosphorus. The loss of nutrients from fertilisers in agriculture are being addressed by using probiotics to increase nutrient availability as the demand for food and feed rises.

SUSBIND is a collaborative European research project in the field of bioeconomy that aims to replace conventional fossil-fuel binders currently used for wood-based panel boards in furniture with highly sustainable bio-based binders.

The people

Dr Gregor Kosec, PhD, Director for Research & Development

With a PhD background in molecular biology Dr. Kosec is a co-founder and Director for Research and Development at Acies Bio, a leading European company in development of industrial microbial strains and bioprocesses. He is responsible for managing and co-ordinating research activities of the company, primarily innovative bioprocess technology solutions and discovery of novel bioactive compounds. In addition to internal research projects Dr. Kosec is overseeing R&D-intensive industrial collaborations of Acies Bio with the industry partners. He is also managing the IP portfolio of Acies Bio, consisting of several patent applications and granted patents, in most of which he also actively participated as inventor.

His scientific interests are focused on improving the understanding of metabolic, biosynthetic and regulatory pathways in microbial cells. In line with Acies Bio’s focus on circular economy-inspired solutions for industrial biotechnology Dr. Kosec has co-invented innovative technologies for using non-standard feedstocks as fermentation substrates. The most advanced example of such technologies is Whey2Value, which uses acid whey for fermentative production of vitamin B12 and has been scaled up and partnered with a large animal nutrition company.  In the last 15 years Dr. Kosec and Acies Bio team have developed numerous innovative solutions for microbial production of high value compounds in collaboration with more than 50 industrial partners, including biggest international chemical, biotech and agtech companies.

Dr Nikolaus Schwaiger, Chemical Engineer Biorefinery

With a background in chemical engineering, a PhD in process engineering and a post-doc in environmental technology, Nikolaus is responsible for biobased processes at Sappi EU R&D, located at Gratkorn Mill in Austria. His main focus is based on lignosulfonate polymerisation projects, as well for alternative pulping processes. Additionally, he is teaching recycling at Graz University of Technology and he is supervisor of several PhD and master students in all environmental and sustainability related fields of chemical engineering.

This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 792021.