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Develop techniques and systems to improve the performance of biocatalysts


Apply innovative techniques to select the biocatalysts to optimally tackle specific feedstock type and composition for high selectivity and yield of the targeted product. If needed, these techniques should be further developed to improve the performance of the biocatalysts in dealing with inhibitors and the operating conditions.

These techniques should include both:

  • selecting and screening systems linking a readily accessible phenotype to product formation; and
  • techniques for analysing, selecting and improving the performance of microorganisms or enzymes to achieve higher efficiency of a given bioprocess.

Proposals should focus on either microorganisms or cell-free enzyme-based systems.

Metabolic and enzymatic engineering strategies may be pursued, as may microbial engineering through gene editing concepts.

Proposals should efficiently prove the innovativeness of the approaches for the purpose of subsequently applying the developed techniques at larger scales.

Proposals should deliver methods to achieve biocatalysis conversions that are more efficient than state-of-the-art alternatives. Proposals should seek to expand on projects already funded under Horizon 2020 and earlier projects to avoid overlap, promote synergies and advance beyond state-of-the-art methods.

The industry should actively participate to demonstrate the potential for integrating the developed concepts into current industrial landscapes or existing plants so that the concepts can be deployed more quickly and scaled up to apply industrial-wide.

Proposals should specifically demonstrate the benefits of the new approaches versus the state-of-the-art and existing technologies. This could be done by providing evidence of new or more efficient processing solutions and new products obtained.

Proposals should commit to assessing the environmental impacts of the developed processes or products using LCA methodologies based on available standards, certification, accepted and validated approaches (see introduction – section 2.2.5 - published in the BBI JU AWP 2018)1.

Proposals should also include an economic viability performance check (value chain and market analysis) of the developed products and processes, along with an analysis of social impacts where applicable.

If relevant, proposals should also allow for pre- and co-normative research necessary for developing the needed product quality standards.

The technology readiness level (TRL)2 at the end of the project should be 4-5. Proposals should clearly state the starting TRL.

Indicative funding:

It is considered that proposals requesting a contribution of between EUR 2 million and EUR 5 million would be able to address this specific challenge appropriately. However, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

1 The LCA may focus on a set of critical issues early on to steer the development process in the right direction. In this case, it is essential that this selection is carefully explained in the proposal in order to allow for expert assessment. See also in the introduction.

2 Technology readiness levels as defined in annex G of the General Annexes to the Horizon 2020 Work Programme: 2020/annexes/h2020-wp1820-annex-ga_en.pdf

Biocatalysts – enzymes and the microorganisms that contain them – offer great potential for the large-scale production of high-value products from renewable, bio-based feedstock. Unlike the conventional chemical conversion processes, biocatalytic conversions typically take place under mild conditions and achieve higher selectivity of specific characteristics, such as chirality. In addition, biocatalysis can realise the targeted conversion of specific biomass fractions such as lignin.

Currently available methods to screen and engineer microbial strains to display the desired biocatalytic features are often time-consuming and expensive, due to the inherent complexity of the metabolic networks involved. A significant improvement of these steps would allow for optimising the biocatalytic conversion of specific feedstocks in well-defined operating conditions, and would help consolidate the competitive advantage of biocatalysis over traditional chemical processes.

Moreover, the success of using biocatalysts for conversion processes is often dependent on the type of the targeted biomass feedstock and the presence of bioprocess inhibitors therein. Feedstock with a mixed composition, like lignocellulose and residual biomass that also contains inhibitors, presents the greatest challenges to biocatalytic transformation. Consequently, for the optimisation and monitoring of a bioprocess there is a need for a detectable/selectable microbial phenotype that correlates biocatalytic activity to the formation of the desired chemical end-product.

The specific challenge of this topic is to phenotypically link the performance of biocatalysts to specific product formation, considering feedstock type and quality, and operating conditions including the presence of inhibitors.

Expected impacts:

  • contribute to KPI 1: create at least one new cross-sector interconnection in bio-based economy;
  • contribute to KPI 8: validate at least one new and improved processing technology reflecting the ‘TRL gain’ since the start of the project;
  • achieve a yield of the desired product of at least 20 % higher than state-of-the-art alternatives producing the same or similar product;
  • reduce the time and costs associated with microbial and/or enzymatic modification processes compared with the state-of-the-art.

Type of action: Research and innovation action.