Case study by the Unviersity of York

The Government has an ambitious target to double the size of the UK bioeconomy to £440 billion by 2030. The University of York is a research leader in this area and has helped establish two organisations that successfully address the challenges facing the growth of a biobased economy.

The bioeconomy uses renewable, biological resources such as plants and wastes to create the greener products of the future – reducing our reliance on fossil resources and minimising waste. In 2012, the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC) was set-up to help ideas for turning plants and wastes into products navigate the valley of death. Since then, the team have delivered more than 450 projects for around 300 clients.

Their work is varied, starting with providing market insights, new contacts and funding proposals; all the way through to sophisticated research, development and demonstration projects.

Ultimately, the team believe that a multidisciplinary approach to biorefining will be key to biorenewable materials replacing their fossil counterparts and have put together the team and facilities to help partners all along the bio-based supply chain.

BDC project highlights

  • Collaborating in an H2020 consortium to turn potato starch into batteries for electric vehicles
  • Helping Drax get added value from wood pellets
  • Using recycled plastic ‘planks’ to grow plants through hydroponics with SME, HydroBlox
  • Working with GSK to make pharmaceuticals from food waste

“We are really impressed with the ideas and support available at the BDC and believe they are uniquely equipped to help companies looking to enter the emerging biorefining sector.” GSK

Since 2014, the University has been leading development of BioVale, an innovation cluster that promotes and develops the bioeconomy across Yorkshire and the Humber. BioVale acts as a ‘one-stop shop’ for businesses in the bioeconomy, creating links from initial R&D through to commercial products. One of its key roles is to build new connections between bioeconomy stakeholders that do not usually interact. This enables the transfer of discoveries, technology and innovation between sectors in the bioeconomy and the building of new supply chains based on biobased resources.

BioVale also brokers collaborative research, development and demonstration as well as promoting the region’s bioeconomy to encourage trade & inward investment.

BioVale highlights

Building effective networks for the regional bioeconomy:

  • 300 members from 200 companies and 18 academic institutions
  • 400 participants in workshops and networking events every year

Raising international recognition of the region’s bioeconomy:

  • Links to 400 biobased SMEs across Europe
  • Research collaborations with 30 organisations from 19 countries

Supporting economic development:

  • A network of over 30 bioeconomy investors
  • Entrepreneurship training delivered to 17 SMEs and start-ups

With the help of the BDC and BioVale’s activities, recognition for the region’s bioeconomy innovation is growing. In 2016, a Government delegation, including the Chief Scientific Adviser, Mark Walport, visited the two organisations, as part of a fact-finding mission on the waste based bioeconomy. In 2017, Innovate UK held their Chemistry and IB Showcase 2017 in York – the first time it has been held outside London – because of the breath and importance of bioeconomy research in the area.

Published: September 28 2018


BioVale and the BDC receive funding support from Research England and the European Regional Development Fund.

This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.