As part of my continuing involvement in promoting (and positioning us for) the Sustainable BioEconomy in Europe, one of my main activities last week was attendance at the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology in Düsseldorf. This was a very encouraging meeting, showing how quickly Europe is moving towards a sustainable bioeconomy in the chemicals sector. Because of the nature of bio-based chemicals, one feature was a session on joint ventures between biological and agricultural or chemicals companies: Avantium and Coca Cola making plantbottle (a clear plastic bottle made from renewable sources), Reverdia, a JV from Roquette and DSM, BioAmber and Lanxess, and Global Bioenergies and Lanzatech were featured. There was much interest in bio-succinate, and a recognition that its increasing availability at scale meant that its markets (and those for its derivatives) needed to be developed now. There were many other excellent talks on developing processes, while Achim Marx gave a very interesting talk about the CLIB2021 cluster that is bringing together the many relevant players in Germany, Yvonne Armitage gave a succinct and helpful account of our own Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum, and Merlin Goldman of the Technology Strategy Board provided an excellent overview of the signal successes of the TSB’s high-value biomanufacturing programme. The CLIB2021 brochure contained the memorable line “In future, the rational development of production strains will in general be accompanied by systems biotechnology approaches.” Quite. There were also useful sessions on marine biotechnology, including a nice example by Kjartan Sandnes of a joint programme between Marine Bioproducts AS from Norway and the Centre for Process Innovation at Wilton, turning (potentially vast amounts of) fish waste into added value products, and one on processes featuring a nice presentation by Ian Fotheringham of the UK’s Ingenza. [...]
Last week began with a reception and networking dinner at the Tate Modern, hosted by Unilever, whose CEO Paul Polman gave an excellent speech on their sustainability agenda. Sustainability is at the heart of biology, and will continue to be a core value for both BBSRC and the bioeconomy.
I then travelled to IBERS at Aberystwyth University for the latest in our series of meetings with the Directors, and their Deputy Directors for Operations, of the Institutes that enjoy strategic support from BBSRC. As usual, the first day involved some excellent science talks from the host Institution, while the second day was more about catching up on progress since the last meeting. While there, I also managed to pop in to see old colleagues at Aber Instruments. [...]
The overriding theme of last week seemed to be the nexus of where arts and humanities meet the natural sciences (and equivalently where they fail to, as the balkanisation of research remains a major issue).
One pleasant networking event was the annual invitation from the Royal Society of Chemistry to a viewing of the Royal Academy summer exhibition. As usual this seemed to involve a mixture of wonderful drawings, paintings and sculpture with some frankly more meretricious offerings, but was nonetheless a pleasant occasion to meet a variety of folk for useful informal discussions. [...]
The week began with a meeting of our Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy Strategy Panel, who I was able to join for a useful dinner discussion. Impact is an area of considerable general interest, and I participated in two events on that theme. The first was a TalkScience event (Whose Impact is it anyway?) at the British Library chaired by William Cullerne Bown (Founder and Publisher of Research Fortnight) where I gave a short talk; my co-panellists were Professor Nick Tyler (Head of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at UCL), Professor Geraint Rees (Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL) and Dr Chris Hale (Deputy Director of Policy at Universities UK). The presentations will be on the Web in due course, and I shall provide a link when they are. The second event was a Foundation of Science and Technology event on Making Science Work, involving a speech by Sir Paul Nurse, PRS, and with ‘responses’ from David Eyton (Group Head of Technology at BP), BBSRC Council Member Dr Andy Richards (Chair of Abcodia et mult al.), and RCUK Chair Professor Rick Rylance. These talks are already on the Web (as well as a pdf summary), and there followed, as ever, two lively discussion periods. All very timely as we begin to set down, once again, the enormous economic value that research in civil science and technology, and especially the Sustainable Bioeconomy, brings to the UK. [...]
Last week began with one of the regular meetings of our Audit Board, focussing especially on this year’s accounts, and also including the Research Councils’ Pension Scheme accounts for which I am Accounting Officer.
We had a very interesting meeting with Joann Roskoski, Deputy Assistant Director of Biological Sciences at the US National Science Foundation. We already have a number of joint programmes with the NSF, and it was most interesting to see the consonance of our thinking in areas such as sustainability, ‘big data’, open access and the like. In this regard, I read an interesting blog post on the extent to which (non-open-access) scientific journals help or hinder scientific progress, and another that involved blogging a thesis. [...]