DTU supports biotech industry with skilled engineers

Technical University of Denmark

In collaboration with Novo Nordisk and other business partners, DTU is developing a part-time MSc programme in Biomanufacturing in Kalundborg. This is being realized through Kalundborg Symbiosis, which is a partnership between 14 public and private companies.

The study programme will begin in September 2023 and will support the need for engineers who can help the region’s bio-based and pharma-based companies with efficient production. As these companies grow, their production increases, attracting new companies that want to set up in Denmark. This creates an increasing need for highly qualified engineers who can drive the complicated processes involved in bio-based production.

Here, the companies produce many different products—from enzymes and insulin to food ingredients, chemicals and fuels based on biological, chemical, catalytic, and thermal processes and through increasing use of biomass to replace fossil resources. This greatly promotes the green transition. The study programme is part of DTU’s strategy to educate more engineers throughout Denmark—and can contribute to maintaining and developing bio-based production in Denmark. It can create new jobs.

“There is a great need for graduates in technical chemistry aimed at biotech and pharma. Not only in Kalundborg, but also in a number of other places in Denmark. Therefore, we need chemical engineers who can raise fundamental knowledge about chemical and biological reactions to an industrial scale,” says Kim Dam-Johansen, Head of Department at DTU Chemical Engineering.

Scandinavia’s largest bioindustrial cluster

The study programme is a four-year part-time MSc programme in which the students combine working for a company with studying. This means that the companies hire an engineering student who is continuously up to date on the latest knowledge.

The study programme includes courses in production technology and chemical and biological transformation processes, such as fermentation. The students also learn how companies go from having an idea to designing a product, regulating processes, and ensuring a uniform and high product quality.

The part-time MSc students become part of the life science environment in Kalundborg, where Scandinavia’s largest bioindustrial cluster is located. The city is, for example, home to the public-private research and innovation centre Helix Lab, where MSc students from all over the world have the opportunity to write their thesis in Industry 4.0 and sustainability in collaboration with the industry in Kalundborg.

The city also houses more than 5,000 industry jobs in a number of Denmark’s largest biotech companies. One of them is Novo Nordisk, which produces about half the world’s insulin from its insulin factory (the largest in the world) in Kalundborg—and has almost 4,000 employees in the city. From 2000 to 2020, the company invested approx. DKK 1 billion annually in capacity expansions. And towards 2027, Novo Nordisk will invest an additional DKK 18 billion in its production in Kalundborg in connection with the establishment of four new factories and the expansion of three existing factories. These investments create a total of 425 new jobs.

“The expansions at Novo Nordisk in Kalundborg will create additional production capacity across the entire value chain from production of the active medicinal product to finished product facilities to keep up with the demand for Novo Nordisk’s products. It is therefore crucial that the company can continue to attract and retain sufficient qualified labour for the growing production facility in Kalundborg,” says Michael Hallgren, Senior Vice President and Head of Production, Novo Nordisk Manufacturing Kalundborg.

Engineers with local affiliation

Michael Hallgren believes that an MSc programme targeted at the pharmaceutical industry’s competence needs will benefit the industry in Kalundborg and in the rest of Denmark, as well as life science in general. He emphasizes that it is crucial that the study programme is located near the production sites where the graduates are employed, so that the food chain is anchored locally, and qualified labour can be more easily be recruited and retained locally:

“We can see that engineers educated locally in close collaboration with the industry have an extra dimension. Through the strong collaboration across the industry and educational institutions, the local students have acquired knowledge of many of these disciplines and tasks already at an early stage in their studies, they know the corporate culture, and have established a wide network. This facilitates onboarding and training processes and also means that they can quickly contribute to performing specific production tasks. At the same time, our expectation is that we can retain the local graduates for longer, precisely because of their local affiliation.”

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