A Glimpse into the Future of White Biotechnology

Although reality could not come up with the forecasted impacts of white biotech on traditional chemical production processes, it is more a question of when but if the revolution will happen (EuropaBio, 2003). The development and use of Industrial Biotechnology is therefore essential to the future competitiveness of European industry and provides a sound technological base for the sustainable society of the future.
In the long run, it is undoubted that an increasing number of chemicals and materials will be produced using biotechnology in one or more of the processing steps. Biotechnological processes will be used to produce chemicals and materials which are hard or impossible to produce or – more frequently — make existing products in a more efficient way. Biotechnology will allow increasingly eco-efficient use of renewable resources as industrial raw materials. Rural bio-refineries can replace port-based oil refineries wherever it is economically feasible. Industrial biotechnology will enable a range of industries to manufacture products in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.
Furthermore, biomass-derived energy based on biotechnology is expected to account for an increasing share of European energy consumption. European industry will be innovative and competitive, with sustained cooperation and support between the research community, industry, agriculture and civil society. Green biotechnology will make a substantial contribution to the efficient production of biomass raw materials and green and white biotechnology will thus combine to an integrated value chain. The prospects will, however, only become reality with the appropriate enabling political and economical environment stimulating research and innovation, entrepreneurship, product approval and market development. As long as the cost of fossil fuel and feedstock for key chemicals have not passed their respective critical thresholds, industrial biotechnology and its products will need political support and funding, particularly in the energy and bulk-chemicals sectors. Other uses of industrial biotechnology, however, such as biocatalytic conversions of fine and specialty chemicals and the manufacture of high-value products, such as nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals and performance chemicals offer dynamic growth opportunities both for established chemical industries, as well as emerging entrepreneurial enterprises. Attracting venture capital (VC) will remain a challenge in the short and medium term particularly for white biotech companies due to VC firms shying away from cyclical businesses and risks that have not been made transparent sufficiently by the biotech’s management. Furthermore, VC firms need a vision on the appropriate exit pathways. They often stay onboard for about four to eight years and look for IPOs or trade sale to big chemicals companies. In comparison to the red alternative, there is little evidence on the IPO or M&A history with respect to industrial biotech targets.