National biocatalysis network looks to replace petrochemicals with green alternatives

UBC chemists are part of a new research initiative aimed at upgrading the sustainability of Canada’s industrial sector by replacing its lifeblood — petrochemicals — with green alternatives.

UBC, Concordia University and the University of Toronto make up the Industrial Biocatalysis Network — a five-year, $5 million program which is part of the federal government's Strategic Network Grants.

Michael Smith Laboratories and Department of Chemistry researcher Harry Brumer, UBC’s principal investigator with IBN, describes his role as one of discovery and development in the science of biocatalysts.

"We are searching organisms in our environment for natural biocatalysts, that on their own or in ensembles, could one day replace the unsustainable processes now required for industrial chemical and materials manufacturing," said Brumer.

Biocatalysts are enzymes vital to the normal functioning of all living things. In the global carbon cycle, biocatalysts are essential for the production and breakdown of plant biomass.

Just as the oil industry splits its raw material into thousands of other chemicals used in industry and manufacturing, IBN aims to transform Canada’s abundant biomass resources from forests and agriculture, into valuable biochemicals.

Chris Balma
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