Economic opportunities for advanced engineering biology solutions in a net zero emission future

Understanding economic opportunities for advanced engineering biology in the transition towards net zero.

Project duration: January 2022 – January 2025

Image: Shutterstock

Project lead

Anthony Wiskich

Project lead


Dr Walter Okelo, Dr Trevor Rapson

The challenge

Advanced engineering biology (AEB) technologies have potential to play a role in the global transition toward net zero emissions.

AEB technologies could cut across many parts of the economy, for example:

  • Producing ammonia using engineered bacteria and renewable electricity for agricultural fertiliser.
  • Engineering more efficient photosynthesis processes in plants and algae to sequester greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • Capturing carbon from emissions-intensive industries and generating useful end products, such as methanol.

A future low-emissions economy in for example, the energy sector, will look very different to today.

Currently, there is a low-level understanding around how AEB technologies would thrive given their many different applications. Consequently, we need to understand the socio-institutional opportunities and barriers (as well as the technological and economic viability of AEB processes) to assist the direction of technology development and implementation.

Our response

We are undertaking desktop economic analysis to understand what the economic opportunities and barriers may be for AEB technologies in the transition to net zero emissions.

A central project theme considers the spectrum of AEB technologies at a high level: this will help identify the scope of opportunities for each family of applications and how they depend upon different potential economic pathways towards a low-emissions future. Case studies explore the economic potential of specific technologies, such as novel ammonia fertiliser production methods using renewable energy.

Economic insights are made through three lenses:

  • Techno-economic analysis that assesses the costs and impacts (including environmental) of specific technology processes and their determinants: for example, analysis of ammonia production using AEB involves estimating the renewable energy requirements and how costs compare with other clean technologies.
  • Analysis of potential sectoral pathways that provides context for determining how a new AEB process may work in practice: for example, will the ability to produce ammonia under ambient conditions lead to a shift towards distributed (on-farm) production, considering the clean transition of the electricity sector?
  • Socio-economic analysis that will assess national and regional impacts and how governments can enable and encourage the development and adoption of new AEB processes: for example, what are the benefits of reduced volatility in ammonia prices due to local production versus importation?

The project will involve interdisciplinary collaboration across economics, engineering biology and chemistry, and will engage researchers across many parts of CSIRO.


In time, the perspective and understanding gained during this project will help Australia take advantage of the opportunities of AEB, and contribute toward global efforts toward a net zero emissions transition. The project will assist public and private institutions in determining what AEB research to support and provide insight into the types of industry adaptation that may take place, providing robust evidence to support decision-making.

More information

Interdisciplinary decision-making