Ice can be anything from a highly destructive agent in agriculture to a useful building material. Established industries are based on the known rules of physics and chemistry which allow some control of amounts of ice or ice crystal geometry. However, organisms have much more subtle requirements to maintain their delicate internal structure if they are to survive freezing. As a result they have selected specific molecules for freezing–point depression, osmotic regulation, ice nucleation and crystal growth inhibition. All these active species may have potential commercial use once they are identified, understood and produced at economic scales. We examine the progress made so far in extending biological subtlety into commercial processes, and look for prospects for further innovation.