Scotland’s industrial biotechnology sector is on course to hit £1.2bn in turnover in the next three years, according to new growth figures released today.

The National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology has revealed that the booming sector is ’exceeding expectations’ as opportunities open up for innovation around the net zero agenda.

The strategy document outlines ambitions for Scotland’s bioeconomy, including reaching a target of 220 companies operating in the sector and more than 4,000 employees by 2025.

Updates to the figures follow analysis from the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), which hosts its annual conference today in Glasgow.

The data showed businesses active in industrial biotechnology accounted for more than £790 million in turnover during 2020, increasing from £189 million in 2012 – prior to the launch of the first iteration of the strategy and the formation of the centre. Initial targets of the National Plan were set at £900m turnover and 2,500 employees by 2025.

Business minister Ivan McKee will present the updated vision for the sector to attendees at IBioIC’s conference, where around 300 experts from industry and academia will gather to discuss how sustainable development of the bioeconomy can secure Scotland’s path to net zero. 

Industrial biotechnology is already supporting the creation of more sustainable materials, consumer goods and pharmaceuticals by using bio-based alternatives to petrochemicals, maximising the re-use of by-products and minimising waste in the process.

IBioIC connects world-leading industry with outstanding academic expertise to support companies to bring new bio-based processes and products to the global market. Almost £30 million of additional industry investment has been generated as a direct result of innovation activities to date, contributing to more than 3,000 high-value green jobs.

Mark Bustard, chief executive of IBioIC, said: “Reaching net zero is going to be a big challenge for Scotland, but it also presents opportunities to embrace biotechnology as a means of getting there. We are already making great progress with the bioeconomy in Scotland, which has grown considerably over the past decade – so much so that we now have new ambitious, but achievable, targets to work towards.

“By supporting businesses to embrace more sustainable products, materials and processes through industrial biotechnology, we can secure local supply chains, create green jobs, and fuel economic growth. However, with a climate emergency upon us, we need to do more and do it quickly: the new National Plan sets out some of the required steps to make that a reality.

“Scotland has a world-class innovation ecosystem and could become the go-to destination for scaling up bioeconomy businesses and manufacturing bio-based products and materials. Further growth will require action from every part of the bioeconomy community – from developing skills and investment in local scale-up infrastructure to a supportive policy and regulatory framework. 

“With sustainability at the top of many businesses’ agendas, the industrial biotechnology community is well-placed to embrace the opportunities that presents, but it also needs support to rise to the challenge ahead.”

Mr McKee added: ”It is encouraging that Scotland’s vibrant industrial biotechnology sector is ahead of schedule to meet targets set out in Scotland’s original National Plan and has ambitious new goals for growth.

“Our National Strategy for Economic Transformation, launched earlier this year, sets out our plans for the next decade and highlights industrial biotechnology as a current and future key industry for Scotland that is fostering innovative and sustainable ways of using biological processes. 

“This includes identifying new market opportunities where Scotland has potential to develop industries like industrial biotechnology by building on our technological strengths.”