Biocatalysis and biomass conversion: Enabling a circular economy

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Two of the grand societal and technological challenges of the twenty first century are the 'greening' of chemicals manufacture and the ongoing transition to a bio-based economy: that is a sustainable, carbon-neutral economy based on renewable biomass as the raw material. These challenges are motivated by the need to eliminate environmental degradation and mitigate climate change. Waste minimisation and waste valorisation in a circular economy constitute a point of overlap of these grand challenges. In a bio-based economy, ideally waste biomass, particularly agricultural and forestry residues and food supply chain waste, are converted to liquid fuels, commodity chemicals, and biopolymers by employing clean, catalytic processes.

Biocatalysis has the right credentials to achieve this goal. Enzymes are biocompatible (sometimes even edible), biodegradable and essentially non-hazardous. Additionally, they are derived from inexpensive renewable resources which are readily available and not subject to the large price fluctuations which undermine the long term commercial viability of catalysts derived from scarce precious metals. Moreover, thanks to spectacular advances in molecular biology the landscape of biocatalysis has dramatically changed in the last two decades. Developments in (meta)genomics in combination with 'big data' analysis have revolutionised new enzyme discovery and developments in protein engineering by directed evolution have enabled dramatic improvements in their performance. These developments have their confluence in the bio-based circular economy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32
JournalRoyal Society of London. Philosophical Transactions A. Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences (online)
Volume378 (2020)
Issue number2176
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Biocatalysis
  • Biomass conversion
  • Biobased economy
  • Circular Economy
  • Green chemistry
  • Biobased plastics


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