Current activity & projects at Innovation Hub

BioBoost and Interreg
BioBoost: the acceleration of transition to a bioeconomy in horticulture

Our new BioBoost project, funded by the EU Interreg 2 Seas programme, is all about using and reducing waste from fresh produce. We will use crop bi-products and waste crop materials as feedstocks for new higher value end-products, which otherwise would be wasted or used for lower value products. Here at Innovation Hub we are looking into more environmentally friendly solutions to minimise the impact of waste on our environment and improve the sustainability of production methods. This 3.5 year project includes scientists from industry and academia in the Netherlands, UK, and Belgium, seeking to learn from each other's innovations and to progress the best solutions through to the marketplace.

NIAB, together with the project partners, is seeking to accelerate the transition towards a more circular bioeconomy by implementing regional test and pilot projects for the development of new techniques, methods and products in the horticultural sector and supporting their development towards market-uptake. We will support SMEs towards the development of innovations and to accelerate their entry to the market. This collaborative project is co-ordinated by our Dutch colleagues in Westland in the west of The Netherlands.

Recycling tomato waste and growth mediaRecycling tomato waste and growth media

EU funded project lead by the Netherlands

Aponic

Aponic have designed and developed a vertical aeroponic commercial food growing system that saves 90% of the water usually poured on the ground and grows 30% faster and gives larger crops yields compared to traditional growing methods.

The multi award winning system uses so little power that it can easily run 'off grid' on solar power and rain water. It recycles its water and nutrients ensuring that they are fully used in the growing process and do not get washed away.

The vertical design turns acreage into volume and makes planting, tending and harvesting a simple task, which can be managed by workers in a standing position. This ensures clean, easy to harvest, consistent crops and cropping cycles even on top of land that was previously unusable or has been taken out of normal production .

The system can be further automated to reduce labour costs and large capital equipment costs and allow precise control of nutrients and produce the perfect crop every time to enable all farmers to create low input, high volume, high value output produce that they have never been able to grow in this country before.

Jason Hawkins-Row is the Aponic CEO and product designer. He started out as an aviation design engineer and then taught himself to be a programmer which took him all over the world where he founded a rainwater recycling project in Australia and fitted indoor fishponds in large airports. This experience highlighted the simplicity and brilliance of nutrient cycling and the intricacies of water management and finally led to the development of a truly sustainable food production system that can be used all over the world in wide variations of climate to grow large quantities of extremely high quality food.

Projects and Aspirations

Aponic have installed a commercial growing system and an aquaponic system at the Innovation Hub which is currently trialling indoor growing of peas, beans, lettuces, pak choi, wasabi, strawberries and tomatoes. We are comparing growth to soil grown plants of the same genotype and then investigating the possibilities of any difference in nutritional value between the two methods.

We are collaborating with NIAB to obtain an InnovateUK grant to roll out sustainable intensification of small to medium scale farming for developing countries so that individuals, villages and commercial growing operations can increase local nutrition and employment without damaging their local environment and minimising impact on climate change.

Within the Innovation Hub we are also collaborating with Entomics, a company developing systems to convert food waste into usable insect protein. Waste insect products are used to feed fish. The fish waste is recycled back to feed crop plants. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate a sustainability project which will yield high quality fish and vegetables to the table using waste food, rainwater and solar power.

The Aponic Vertical Growing System is the first in a series of products that will grow to encompass many other crops and we hope to develop them and trial them with NIAB in the future.

Lucy Frazer MP visits Innovation Hub

TomatoesTomatoes being grown vertically

Aponic vertical growingAponic vertical growing system

Entomics

Overview

Each year, wasted food represents US$1 trillion of lost value, and leads to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon emissions the FAO estimates that global food production must increase by 70% to feed the world's rapidly growing population by 2050. This has forced a fundamental rethink around the way we source high-quality animal protein, as well as nutritious fruits and vegetables.

Entomics Biosystems' innovative solution is to 'close the food waste loop' by transforming organic waste into sustainable agricultural inputs, using an indigenous UK insect, the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) as a conversion catalyst. BSF larvae efficiently convert 95% of organic waste into complex fats and proteins in their bodies. Leveraging our novel post-processing technology, we refine these compounds into aquaculture feed and organic fertiliser in a cheap, scalable and sustainable manner.

Overall, this is a significant positive disruption to the current food waste landscape, and an innovative way of turning waste material into a set of valuable, sustainable resources.

Thus, the Entomics philosophy perfectly aligns with the Innovation Hub vision for reducing waste and increasing efficiency within the agricultural sector.

The Team

The four co-founders combine the necessary skills to set up and develop this technology:

  • Matt McLaren (CEO) has experience as an analyst, a project leader and co-ordinating activities for and with small and large multinationals, backed up by a Cambridge University MBA.
  • Miha Pipan (CSO) is an experienced biochemist/bioinformatician with a track record in cell culture with Cancer Research UK and an MSc in Biochemistry from Cambridge University.
  • Fotis Fotiadis (CTO) is an experienced engineer, specialising in offshore Oil & Gas engineering and consulting. He has an MEng (Hons) from Sussex University and an MPhil in Sustainable Engineering from Cambridge University.
  • Joe Halstead (COO) has five years experience in agriculture and silviculture sectors and recently graduated from Cambridge with a BSc (Hons) in Plant Sciences, specialising in insect biology and agronomy.

Projects and Aspirations

At Innovation Hub, activity centres on investigating the underlying physical and biological mechanisms behind insect-based waste transformation, and gathering data around engineering challenges, key conversion rates, chemical transformations and the effectiveness of targeted product applications. This project is supported by the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Eastern Agri-Tech Fund.

The Entomics team - Joe Halstead, Miha Pipan, Matt McLaren and Fotis FotiadisJoe Halstead, Miha Pipan, Matt McLaren and Fotis Fotiadis

Entomics

EntomicsDr Miha Pipan working at laboratory on-site

Celbius

Celbius helps customers to improve their bioprocesses by exposing liquids and slurries to ultrasonic energy. The energy is delivered to the process stream whilst flowing through a sonic pipe and lowers production costs for extractions, fermentations and biotransformations by enabling faster reactions and higher yields. Key applications for the agricultural industry include extraction, for example for natural colours, antioxidants and other bioactives.

The technology improves the yield of biogas and bioethanol (fermentation), and may be used for other applications where efficient mixing, material drying, cleaning or novel product formulation is needed.Laboratory experiments are first performed to quantify the benefit of ultrasound in the process. Following this, the technology is demonstrated in a full scale 10L flow cell prior to installation in a manufacturing process. A variety of business models are available to suit the customer.

Steve TaylorDr Steve Taylor, Chief Scientific Officer at Celbius

Ubiqutek

Ubiqutek are the leader in electrical weed control technologies and products. Our aim is to improve the environment by offering a greener and organic alternative to chemical weed control. We currently have a professional hand-weeder for spot-weeding and invasive species and are also developing an agricultural intra- and inter-row weeder for vegetables.