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A*STAR’s ICES sets up new biomass lab

Jack Loo | Dec. 4, 2012
The research agency wants to tap into opportunities in the biorenewable chemicals market.

The Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences (ICES), a research institute of Singapore government's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), has opened its Metabolic Engineering Research Laboratory (MERL).

The new laboratory will design and engineer microbial cellular factories capable of cost-effectively producing high value chemicals from agricultural waste.

"Most of the world's current chemicals and chemical-based products are derived from crude oil. Eco-friendly processes for the next generation of chemicals, materials are urgently required," said Dr Keith Carpenter, ICES's executive director.

"The possibility of creating an entirely new value chain, deriving materials and chemical products from biomass and through the integration of biological and chemical sciences, with novel techniques and know-how is definitely an exciting prospect," added Carpenter.

MERL will also focus on developing new computational and experimental approaches for synthetic biology and metabolic engineering applications to accelerate the engineering of the cellular factories.

According to ICES, the global biorenewable chemicals market will be worth US$6.8 billion by 2015. This industry offers an opportunity for Singapore to renew its chemical industry and maintain its edge as a leading chemical hub in the region.

The new research platform aims to foster collaborations among the research institutes from A*STAR's Biomedical Research Council and Science and Engineering Research Council.

"We will collaborate with the scientific community and industry to address technological capabilities essential to form the foundation for bioprocess development activities. The 10-member research team will develop applications using novel and sustainable biological processes as an alternative route to conventional chemical processes," said Professor Zhao Huimin, the key scientist for MERL biomass programme.

 

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