The increasing focus on sustainable industrial processes for the chemical industry has resulted recently in a number of new bio-based initiatives. Environmental pressures and a shift towards the use of agricultural-based raw materials, as well as rapid developments in the science supporting biotechnology, have stimulated this interest. The recent sequencing of the human genome and the associated sequencing of industrial bacterial and yeast genomes have also played their part. In addition, the fields of metabolic engineering, bioinformatics and computer-based modelling and process optimization are opening up opportunities for new products and cost reductions. In the present review, a number of these new industrial bio-based processes are identified. A case study on fuel ethanol, using agricultural residues and based on a genetically-engineered micro-organism (rec Zymomonas mobilis), is presented as such a process provides an opportunity for reducing fuel ethanol production costs as well as facilitating the infrastructure for other higher value bio-based products.