Consensus Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

A growing number of chemicals used in the manufacture of consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, and other products are being produced using biological systems -- the so called "industrialization of biology." Taking advantage of advancing knowledge of synthetic biology, bio-based chemicals can be cheaper and more environmentally sustainable than those produced through traditional chemical synthesis. For some complex chemicals, like pharmaceuticals or industrial enzymes, biosynthesis may be the only route available to obtain the desired purity and yield. The bio-based chemical market is already a significant part of the national economy, estimated in 2012 to be about 2.2% of the national GDP, or about $353 billion in economic activity.

Despite recent and projected growth, only about 5% of the $3.6 trillion market of products requiring chemical transformations are being addressed biologically. Often, bio-based routes are not even considered, especially when well-established chemical syntheses already exist. A vision for the future is one in which biological synthesis and chemical synthesis are considered equally for the production of chemicals. Achieving such a future, however, requires steps forward in several scientific and technical areas, as well as the development of robust social, legal, and economic frameworks to foster its development. This report lays out a roadmap for closing those gaps and accelerating the advanced manufacturing of chemicals.