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Personal profile


James joined the Department of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science as a Lecturer in 2013, was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2018 and to Reader in 2021. His current research interests are focused around industrial biotechnology, fermentation processes and the efficient production and separation of bio-based products, including biosurfactants and biopolymers. James is the Academic Lead for Business Engagement and Innovation for the School of Engineering and Programme Director for the MEng with Industrial Experience degree programme. James is a Co-founder of Holfierm Limited, spun-out from his research group in 2018. Holiferm are commercialising biosurfactant production technology and produce sophorolipid biosurfactants at ktonne scale. Prior to his Lectureship James worked as a Post-doctoral Research Associate in the Multiphase Processing Group on an EPSRC funded Challenging Engineering Project.

James obtained a PhD in the area of biosurfactant production and separation from The University of Manchester in 2011, supervised by Dr Peter Martin and funded by EPSRC and Unilever, following which he was awarded a six month EPSRC Doctoral Prize. He graduated with a MEng in Engineering Science from the University of Oxford in 2007. 

Research interests

We have well established research interests in the development of more efficient manufacturing methods for bio-based products, via a bioprocessing and biochemical engineering route. Our work is centred on bioprocess development for the production of biosurfactants and biopolymers, identifying ways to manufacture these added value bio-based products through valorisation of by-products and waste streams and engineering novel fermentation and separation processes. We also investigate the generation of biopolymers with bespoke, composition, giving control over the material properties of the copolymers produced. See the Winterburn Research Group video for further information.

Enhanced Glycolipid Production:

Biosurfactants are surface active molecules produced by a range of microorganisms that can be made from a range of renewable resources and are biodegradable. Thanks to their unique properties there is a demand for biosurfactants in many applications, including personal care products, cleaning products, bioremediation and enhanced oil recovery. At present this demand is hindered by the high cost of production. We have invented a novel gravity based separation system for the recovery of sophorolipids, a type of glycolipid biosurfactant, from a bioreactor. This process has been validated at pilot scale and provides a greater than twofold increase in sophorolipid productivity, drastically reducing production cost. The success of this research was recognised by the BBSRC with Ben Dolman and James Winterburn winning the Innovator of the Year Early Career Award. This work is being commercialised through a spin out company – Holiferm.

Bespoke PHBV Production:

The wider use of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biopolymers, biodegradable polymers produced by a range of microorganisms as a means of intracellular energy storage, requires advances in both the method of manufacture and the ability to control the polymer material properties. PHAs have potential to replace non-biodegradable plastics produced from non-renewable resources, in a range of applications especially in the biomedical field. We work with the extreme halophile Haloferax mediterranei which produces the copolymer Poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyvalerate), PHBV, and have demonstrated that when using volatile fatty acids (VFA) as a feedstock the HV fraction of PHBV copolymers is directly proportional to the percentage of C5:0 in the C4:0:C5:0 feed. A range of random, block and blend polymers varying from pure PHB to pure PHV can be produced by co-feeding or sequentially feeding the VFA mixtures. The synthesis of block copolymers is of interest because the materials have enhanced yield strength and mechanical strength, making such materials more suitable for commodity uses. These PHBV biopolymers exhibit excellent thermal and mechanical properties, comparable to oil-derived plastics such as polypropylene and low-density polyethylene.

More broadly the group works on fermentation based process, such as coffee production.

  • Fermentation process development
  • Novel downstream separation processes
  • Biosurfactants
  • Biopolymers
  • Surface properties of biological molecules
  • Coffee fermentation, chemistry and analysis

My group


I am always looking for high quality PhD students to undertake research broadly in the area of biosurfactant and biopolymer production and characterisation. Further information about the Winterburn Group is available via the Winterburn Research Group video.


  • MEng Engineering Science – University of Oxford (2007)
  • PhD – The University of Manchester (2011)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water

External positions

External Examiner UCL Biochemical Engineering (MSc, MRes, EngD), University College London (UCL)

Nov 2021 → …

Chair Biochemical Engineering Special Interest Group, Institution of Chemical Engineers

Jul 2018Jul 2023

Co-Founder and Technical Director, Holiferm Limited

1 May 2018 → …

Associate Editor, Biochemical Engineering Journal

Jul 2017 → …

Vice-Chair Biochemical Engineering Special Interest Group, Institute of Chemical Engineers

Jul 2016Jul 2018

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Biotechnology


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