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In response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report, Waste or resource? Stimulating a bioeconomy, the UK government has recommended that a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is given responsibility for the development of a waste-based, high value bioeconomy.

The government said that it does accept that progress in stimulating the bioeconomy will be enhanced if there is a clear ministerial champion identified. BIS will take this championing role led by the Minister of State for Business and Energy.

Further, the response said that a cross Government Steering Group will be established with industry and key stakeholders to coordinate the development and stimulation of a bioeconomy, for which waste will form a potentially important feedstock.

Through this Steering Group, the government said that it will ensure the engagement and participation of other government departments which own and manage a range of levers relevant to this opportunity, such as Defra, which leads on resource and waste management.

Collections

In response to the Committee’s call for the guidance for local authorities on waste and recycling collection services, the government said that it considers that the way that domestic waste is collected is a local matter for local councils, and they will wish to listen to their residents.

The government reiterated its statement that “collection arrangements should be easy to use, cost effective and help the environment by enabling waste to be recycled and reused”. The provision of clear and easy to understand information should be part of those arrangements.

The government added that it is clear on the importance of providing a high quality, regular and convenient waste management service to households.

“We will continue to work with local authorities and industry to promote good practice and look at how recycling can be made more convenient for residents. However, the government recognises the wide variation of collection processes across local authority boundaries today makes this standardisation problematic. The government is not in favour of issuing new guidance unless there is a clear and immediate issue that needs to be tackled,” said the response.

Shift away from energy projects?

In its response to the report’s call for a move away from the funding of waste to energy projects towards the recovery of high value products the government said that the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) proposes to focus on research underpinning biopharmaceutical production and manufacture, building on the investment and expertise from the Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC).

The response also said that with its strong science base the UK is well placed to be a world-leader in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy research, with benefits not only in generating high quality ‘green’ products and services, but also boosting the economy through the manufacture of biorenewable products as attractive alternatives to petrochemical products.

According to the government this research will also benefit from international collaboration. One illustration of this potential is research by the University of York, University of Portsmouth, and the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory leading to the discovery of a new enzyme, used by tiny marine wood-borers called ‘gribble’ to break down wood, that could help inform the development of industrial processes to turn waste materials, such as paper, scrap wood and straw, into liquid fuel.

The government added that further insights into the conversion of waste into useful products such as chemicals and biofuels should also emerge from the UK’s research and development of synthetic biology (SynBio). This was said to have benefitted from recent investments by the government through Research Councils (mainly BBSRC, EPSRC, MRC and ESRC) to implement the recommendations of the UK’s published SynBio Roadmap.

The result was said to have been £40 million funding for three SynBio research centres at the University of Bristol, University of Nottingham and the University of Cambridge/John Innes Centre announced in January 2014 by Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts.

Further, the government said that Doctoral Training centres at UCL and the Universities of Oxford, Bristol and Warwick will help to develop the next generation of industrial and academic leaders in SynBio and industrial biotechnology.

Knowledge Transfer                                              

In response to the Committee’s recommendation that the BIS ensure that sufficient funding is given to knowledge transfer and near market research, and that there is adequate capacity in demonstration facilities, the government said that the need for this funding is not unique to the bioeconomy.

Through the Catapult network the government said that it has increased the UK’s capacity to accelerate the commercialisation of technology products at later technology readiness levels than other Research Council and Technology Strategy Board support.

The government also noted that investment in the Catapult network has been increased through recent fiscal events, with £38 million for the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre as part of the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) in Autumn Statement 12 and further increase in CPI’s capability through the investment in Graphene provided in Budget 14.

However, the government did acknowledge the need to regularly review the scope, capacity and effectiveness of the Catapult network, including the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. To that end, it said it has commissioned Hermann Hauser to carry out exactly this kind of review. This will report in the autumn aligned with the government’s Science and Innovation Strategy.

Reaction

The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee said that the government has now embraced the central recommendations of its report.

“We are pleased that the government have embraced our principal recommendations and we look forward to the forthcoming long term plan for delivering and supporting a growing bioeconomy,” commented chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Lord Selborne.

“We heard in our inquiry that the UK now has a real chance to develop a multibillion pound economy from waste and we are glad that the government seem seized of this opportunity.

We will doubtless return to this topic in due course to check the government’s progress against the commitments they have made today,” he added.

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