Academic research is key to driving the bioeconomy and industrial biotechnology. Austria hosts a growing and diverse set of actors pushing at the frontiers of knowledge and who are highly appreciated collaborators for partners around the globe. The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), the University of Vienna and TU Wien host many of Austria’s most renowned researchers in the field and are collaborating with other institutes throughout Austria to educate the next generation. The universities have built strong portfolios of spin-off projects and start-up companies. The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) is Austria’s research hub for industrial biotechnology offering expertise and a constantly growing marketplace of inspiring ideas for new products and joint research projects for all kinds of industries.
Efficient biopharmaceutical production
Biomanufacturing processes can be quite tricky and require optimization and new solutions for increasing efficiency. There also is a need for strategic investments in recycling by-products or using waste heat for example. Modern biopharmaceutical manufacturing plants for antibiotics, vaccines, drugs for rare diseases or CDMO facilities for drug components and liposomes such as those operated by Biomay, Boehringer Ingelheim, Octapaharma, Pfizer, Polymun, Takeda in Austria already are considering these issues. Small and agile companies including the BOKU spin-off enGenes provide tools for optimized manufacturing processes like next generation host cell lines and plasmid expression vectors. A TU Wien start-up usePAT, on the other hand provides accurate in-line measuring solutions for enhanced process control in industrial liquids. A new application is in-line detection of microplastics in various liquids such as oceans, lakes, waste- and drinking water.
Food, feed and beyond
Austria is home to some big players in the food and feed industry who are increasingly transforming their processes and products to make them more sustainable. Recently, DSM acquired Erber Group’s Biomin and Romer Labs. Biomin specializes in mycotoxin risk management and gut health performance management, whereas the Romer Labs business focuses on food and feed safety diagnostic solutions. Both expand DSM’s range of higher value-added specialty solutions for nutritional products. The newly founded SAN Group carries on Erber’s animal health and biotechnological crop protection business. Jungbunzlauer is a global leader in manufacturing bio-based ingredients by fermentation. Renewable raw materials are the basis of the company’s environmentally friendly, biodegradable products. In Austria, citric acid, xanthan gum and glucose are focused on with a new production plant being planned that will also comply with Jungbunzlauer’s no waste policy. Agrana is a world market leader in the manufacturing of fruit preparations, a major supplier of customized potato, corn and wheat starch products and bioethanol in Europe, and a leading sugar company. Agrana Research & Innovation Center is Austria’s largest industrial research laboratory in the food sector. It develops solutions for modern nutrition trends, environmentally friendly, energy-saving production processes, solutions for by-products, organic plastics that can be composted at home, and green glues. New food tech companies are pursuing different paths to make nutrition more climate friendly. Rebel Meat for example produced hybrid meat products to reduce overall meat consumption by replacing 50% with mushrooms, plants, and crops. Feeding the world while saving the planet also is the focus at Livin Farms. The company’s insect technology allows upcycling low value agricultural and food industry waste into high value proteins. Seafood gourmets might want to try luxury shrimps from White Panther in Styria, which are grown in a sustainable process in one of Europe’s largest indoor aquaculture facilities. Waste heat from a regional power plant, a cutting-edge hatchery and green packaging characterize this unique circular economy approach. Revo Foods on the other hand offers seafood made of plants that also help to prevents overfishing the ocean. BOKU’s CarboFeed project even goes one step further. It combines the sustainable production of feed with removing greenhouse gas from the atmosphere by using a yeast strain for converting CO2 into protein-rich biomass. Jongerius ecoduna, on the other hand focuses on large-scale production of microalgae for the food industry in a patented photo-bioreactor-system, which for the first time enables resource efficient, sustainable and continuous production in a controlled environment. And TU Wien spin-off Evologic Technologies makes science-based biologicals economically feasible using a proprietary bioreactor design for filamentous fungi yielding formulations that are free of contaminants, highly concentrated and stable. Products target the agricultural (biocontrol and biostimulant) and feed additive sector.
Enzymes and biosensors
Collaboration and co-location of facilities increase efficiency and reduce environmental costs. Novartis recently opened its life sciences campus in Tyrol to external research and manufacturing companies. The first partner on board is BASF. By investing at Novartis’ Kundl/Schaftenau campus, BASF is strengthening its global production of enzymes and other biotechnology products. In the future, a world-scale production set-up for bacterial detergent enzymes will be available in Austria. Such enzymes play a key role in washing agents such as those manufactured by Henkel in Vienna. The city is home to a major production plant for liquid detergents. Eucodis Bioscience is located at the nearby Vienna BioCenter. This is an enzyme engineering and manufacturing SME with a portfolio of over 50 innovative enzymes including lipases, beta-lactamases, and peroxidases. Enzymes are applied in a broad range of use cases and have pushed the development of biosensors, that are widely used e.g. to manage disease or track food allergens. BOKU-spin-off DirectSens, for example, provides a user-friendly, certified lactose assay for high precision analysis of lactose-free and low lactose milk products. In addition, the company has developed an enzyme for continuous glucose monitoring in diabetes patients.
Commodities and packaging
Several young companies in Austria strive to make commodities and packaging more environmentally friendly while keeping an eye on costs. ab&cd innovations contributes to converting industrial wastes and by-products into value. The company started planning an industrial polylactic acid (PLA) production facility. Investors are invited to join in to realize this opportunity to produce compostable bioplastics. And Syconium Lactic Acid develops a production process for lactic acid operating at significantly lower costs compared to currently established production processes. One new packaging initiative is BOKU’s approach to convert fast growing aquatic macrophytes from the Danube River into packaging material or biodegradable plates and cups. Investors are invited to support setting up a biorefinery in the region. Researchers based at the University of Vienna and TU Graz contribute to testing a different strategy in the BreadCell EU FETopen project by focusing on environmentally friendly foam material to create cellulose-based sandwich composite materials.
Fashion and textiles
Lenzing turns wood from certified sustainable forestry and plantations into cellulosic textile fibers with highly appreciated characteristics. These fibers are already widely used on the market and are biodegradable and compostable at the end of their life cycle, thus providing soil for new plants to grow. Did you know that innovative solutions also concern dyes? Vienna Textile Lab fabricates organic colors made by naturally occurring bacteria to provide the most sustainable, wholesome, and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional synthetic dyes. Innovative solutions for emerging trends in the textile industry also are on the agenda at Acticell: Environmentally friendly chemicals that support modern technologies in the production of denim articles which cuts water consumption by 90%.
The way people live their lives in densely populated cities have a big impact on environment and climate issues. Urban locations therefore hold a lot of potential for change. Greening and cooling the city rank high on Vienna’s agenda. A broad range of projects have started, ranging from greening roofs and façades with appropriate plants to urban micro farming. One of Vienna’s largest climate protection projects concerns Vienna’s wastewater treatment plant, which is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. Water purification involves microorganisms and requires a lot of energy. To make sewage water treatment more environmentally friendly, Vienna’s plant has been transformed into an ecological power plant in recent years. Now, six 30-meter-high digestion tanks are available for converting sludge into gas in a highly efficient manner. More energy and heat are created than are needed for operating the wastewater treatment plant. Austria’s BEST – Bioenergy and Sustainable Technologies competence center provides new knowledge for future advancements. It carries out research on the joint use of bioenergy and other renewable energy supply technologies as well as on the conversion of biomass and waste to liquid fuels, green gas and valuable chemicals for industry.