In December, Dr. James C. Liao visited BioInnovation Institute from Taiwan when he was in Denmark to receive the Novozymes Award for Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.
After having spent most of his career in the US working on solving the world’s climate challenges, he returned to Taiwan three and a half years ago. Here, he is continuing his work in the field of climate change focusing on CO2, but also helping start-ups building their business as President of Academia Sinica. One year ago, Academia Sinica opened an incubator where 12 start-ups in primarily biopharma are supported in business development.
After he gave a Talk at the Square, we talked to him about his work and biotech in Taiwan.
What does the biotech scene look like in Taiwan?
In Taiwan, we have had a very strong focus on IT and investors have made a lot of money on especially chip manufacturing. Many of them are now looking for alternative investments, and biotech and medtech have made a quick rise due to that. We see mostly biopharma and have had some success recently with six products on the global markets coming out of Taiwan. Several start-ups are focusing on biologics and also a few on small molecule pharmaceuticals.
What led you to research in the area of climate change?
About 10-20 years ago, there was a strong focus on biofuel. It became an important alternative energy source, but even the production of biofuel releases CO2, which is currently the real problem in global climate change. Because of that, we shifted into looking at how we can utilize CO2 or avoid it in energy usage. We have developed an innovative technology where microbiomes obtain CO2 which is a long-term solution to the problem. Up until now, there has been a stronger focus on the short-term approach of capturing and storing CO2, but that is beginning to change.
Why will CO2 continue to be an issue even if we shift to green energy?
Many people are working on green energy which is important. But relatively few are working on the CO2 side. Even if the entire world stopped emitting CO2 from today, we would still have the legacy of CO2 in the world. In other words, it is not enough to stop releasing, we need to find a way to take the CO2 back because the greenhouse ceiling is still above us. That is what, we are trying to solve with synthetic biology.