IT'S one of the Government's key growth areas, and could help the UK climb back to the top of the manufacturing tree.
Industrial biotechnology (IB) - using plants instead of fossil fuels to create the new products of tomorrow - is big business.
And Teesside is fast becoming the go-to place to road test next generation products, from transport fuels to medicine.
A unique National Industrial Biotechnology Facility (NIBF), based at Wilton, sees companies from across the country come to speed up their walk through the so-called "valley of death" - the notoriously difficult route from proof of concept to commercialisation.
And now NIBF owner Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) has teamed up with UCL to train chemists in this vital new area.
The course, part of UCL Biochemical Engineering''s award winning MBI Programme, is the first to be run outside the UCL campus and will be delivered jointly with the experts at CPI.
Chemists will be taught how to bring products to market faster and more cheaply, which is vital if the UK is to edge ahead of other countries in the race to harness IB.
It's a coup for Teesside, experts claim.
Dr Karen Smith, director of bioprocess leadership at UCL's Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering, said the course brings together the theoretical expertise of UCL with CPI's large-scale practical know-how for the first time.
"It offers a comprehensive insight. "Products like biofuels are gaining increased public and scientific attention, driven by factors such as oil price hikes, the need for increased energy security and concern over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels," she said.
"Having a state-of-the art National Industrial Biotechnology Facility based in Teesside will without question bring significant benefits to Teesside and to the country as a whole.
"Indeed many of the world''s leading chemical and manufacturing companies are already well established in the North-east.
"CPI's National Industrial Biotechnology Facility is designed to assist companies of all sizes to develop bioprocesses quickly and cost-effectively.
"The extensive combination of equipment at CPI is supported by the team's knowledge of process development and scale-up, which means CPI can take a manufacturing concept from the laboratory bench to large scale commercial production - all on one site, with one team, at speed."
So why is IB so important? Industrial biorefining in particular, claims Dr Smith, has been earmarked as one of the keys to a greener future for the UK. …