• Status: Closed

  • Key features: Investment of up to £34m in major integrated research and development projects through the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst.

  • Programme: Other

  • Award: Up to £34million

  • Opens: 21 May 2015, 00:00

  • Registration closes: 25 Nov 2015, 12:00

  • Closes: 02 Dec 2015, 12:00

  • Support phone number: 0300 321 4357

Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst - Early-stage - Technical Feasibility studies - Round 4


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Innovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are to invest £34m in major integrated research and development projects through the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst. Catalysts provide funding to innovative businesses and researchers working in priority areas with the aim of helping them to quickly turn excellent UK research into new or improved commercial processes and products.


The Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst programme will accelerate commercialisation by supporting the development of new industrial biotechnology products and processes, and enabling their potential scale-up. It will support R&D for the processing and production of materials, chemicals and bioenergy through the sustainable exploitation of biological resources. We are particularly encouraging a collaborative approach.


There are five types of award – early stage: translation; early stage: technical feasibility studies;  industrial research; late stage: technical feasibility studies; and late stage: experimental development – and, with the exception of translation awards which are academic, can involve a single business or be collaborative. Total project sizes can range from up to £250k for feasibility studies to up to £10m for experimental development.


The competition opens on 21 May 2015. The deadline for registration is noon on 25 November 2015 and the competition close date is noon on 2 December 2015.


There will be a webinar briefing for this competition on the 28th May. 


Supporting documents & links



Industrial biotechnology is the use of biological processes to produce materials, chemicals and energy. Investment in industrial biotechnology has the potential to reduce fossil oil use and help the UK to meet its requirements under climate change legislation. It could also contribute to fuel security, to the production of innovative materials and chemicals, and to the creation of new jobs.

The UK is a world leader in research in this area. Collaboration between UK researchers and the emergent industrial biotechnology sector provides a significant opportunity for UK industry to deliver the environmental, social and economic benefits of industrial biotechnology, and increase the UK's competitiveness. Estimates of the potential size of the UK industrial biotechnology market range from £4bn to £12bn by 2025.

There are significant challenges to developing these new processes and products. Progress requires the bringing together of knowledge and technologies, often from different disciplines, in order to: understand how to handle feedstocks and by-products of production; overcome the challenges of scale-up; optimise the energy balance, and make a positive overall contribution in terms of economic, environmental and social performance. It can be difficult for business to address these challenges alone, so there is a need to build collaborations, facilitate knowledge exchange, and share investment risk with other funders.


The Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst will support the development and commercialisation of innovative industrial biotechnology processes for the manufacture of a wide range of existing and new products, taking into account their sustainability and their social, economic and environmental impacts.

It will bring together key academics and businesses in the UK industrial biotechnology and bioenergy community to support R&D projects in the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst challenge areas. These should seek to apply biological processes to the development of innovative and efficient manufacturing of existing products (replacement products), or new products that reduce dependency on fossil oil and de-carbonise some industrial processes.


The IB Catalyst will support research and development for the processing and production of materials, chemicals (including pharmaceutical precursors and biopharmaceuticals) and bioenergy. The biological resources that may be utilised in these processes include tissues, enzymes and genes from organisms that include algae, marine life, fungi, microorganisms and plants.

The IB Catalyst aims to encourage the use of new technologies such as systems and synthetic biology alongside more traditional approaches such as fermentation and process engineering, and biocatalysis; including theory and modelling.

Projects should address one or more of the following challenges using biological processes, or processes in which biological and chemical approaches are used in combination. These approaches can include the theory and modelling of the processes involved:

  • Production of fine and specialty chemicals and natural products (e.g. fragrances, flavours, pharmaceutical intermediates)
  • Production of commodity, platform and intermediate chemicals and materials (e.g. plastics, resins, textiles)
  • Production of liquid and gaseous biofuels
  • Production of peptides and proteins (e.g. enzymes, antibiotics, recombinant biologics)
  • Novel or improved upstream or downstream processes to reduce costs or improve efficiency

What is classed as ‘out of scope'?

  • The IB Catalyst will not fund research that uses feedstocks from material that could be used for the human food chain or animal feed for the purposes of production of liquid and gaseous fuels (unless they have already fulfilled their food purpose).
  • Projects involving the production of food and drink are out of scope; however, projects may address the production of fine chemicals for use as food ingredients, for example flavourings and colourings.
  • The IB Catalyst will not support research aimed at discovery and screening for activity
  • Projects involving the production of cell therapies and vaccine manufacturing are out of scope.

The IB Catalyst supports three stages of award in line with the state of readiness of the project you are considering. Three categories of award are available under this scheme, which are designed to support the maturation of an idea from concept to commercialisation, and applicants must decide which award category is most appropriate for their work. These are:

  • Early Stage Awards: translation and feasibility studies
  • Industrial Research
  • Late stage Awards: technical feasibility studies and experimental development

It is expected that projects funded through the IB Catalyst, other than experimental development, may wish to seek to move through the scheme as their project matures.


Funding allocation and project details

We have allocated up to £34m in 2015-16 to fund R&D projects that address the technical challenges outlined in the scope.

Early stage: feasibility studies

Feasibility funding will support projects that explore/evaluate the commercial potential of an early-stage innovative idea. Examples include:  review of research evidence and its potential application to an industrial biotechnology process; assessment of a business opportunity; or scoping of further development. 
Outcomes of projects may underpin future applications for industrial research awards. This includes  providing  evidence of the feasibility of new industrial biotechnology processes or technologies, an industrial biotechnology-based approach for a particular process, or the application of an existing process to a new product class. 
Projects can be business or academic-led and can involve a single business or collaborations between businesses or between businesses and academics.
Please note that grant rates have changed from Round 3 onwards.
Projects can attract up to 70% public funding for small enterprises, 60% for medium enterprises and 50% for large enterprises. We expect total project costs to be up to £250k. The eligible costs of research organisations must be no more than 50% of total project costs. Projects should last up to one year.

Application process

The competition opens for all stages on 21 May 2015.

These awards follow a single-stage application process.

Applications are assessed on individual merit by an independent panel of experts. We may apply a portfolio approach across the themes/areas.

A team from NNFCC, The Bioeconomy Consultants, led by Dr Adrian Higson, has been appointed to the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst to act as coordinators and advise on the scope of applications to be submitted to the Catalyst and facilitate development of new collaborations. Adrian can be contacted at A.Higson@nnfcc.co.uk.

Key dates

  • Open: 21 May 2015
  • Registration deadline: noon on 25 November 2015
  • Competition close deadline: noon on 2 December 2015


More information

To apply you must first register with us through the competition page on the website. Registration opens when the competition opens and closes a week before the deadline for applications.


As part of the application process all applicants are asked to submit a public description of the project. This should adequately describe the project but not disclose any information that may impact on intellectual property, is confidential or commercially sensitive.

The titles of successful projects, names of organisations, amounts awarded and the public description will be published once the decision to offer an award has been communicated to applicants by email. Information about unsuccessful project applications will remain confidential and will not be made public.


E-mail pressoffice@innovateuk.gov.uk with any queries.