Investment in green technology hub will contribute to net zero target

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Small businesses exploring green technology will benefit from a £1.25m upgrade to an innovation hub which promotes the reduction of unsustainable crop and food waste.

The Eastern Agri-tech Innovation Hub in Soham, Cambridgeshire, has installed new polytunnels, a glasshouse, heat pump, sustainable water-use facilities and a 33KW solar farm following the investment.

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership supported the facility with a £600,000 from its Agri-tech Grant Scheme back in 2014 and since it opened the following year the site has doubled in size.

Half of the site upgrade has been funded by a grant from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board and the remaining 50% was match-funded by NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) and other sources.

As well as looking at ways to cut down on crop and food waste, the centre run by NIAB, helps start-ups and small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) find solutions with the aim of eventually upscaling their businesses.

Dr Lydia Smith, who manages the Eastern AgriTech Innovation Hub, said: “The investment in green technology, as well as showcasing NIAB’s actions to reduce our carbon emissions, was essential to reduce cost so our SME licensees can achieve a sustainable economic return.

Using additional land generously donated by the fresh produce supplier Gs Growers, the new area houses the solar farm, which generates electricity and lighting for the site, with any unused power fed back into the National Grid.

Two new polytunnels and a glasshouse will host crop trials for both NIAB and the SMEs that use the site. The largest polytunnel is heated and cooled by an air source heat pump. This is all monitored from the site’s main building and demonstrates the carbon-saving outcomes.

The green technology investments, allied to the site’s mission to reduce waste, will assist the Hub as it aims to hit the National Farmers’ Union’s Net Zero carbon goal for agriculture by 2040.

Austen Adams, chair of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board, recently visited the Hub. “It is great to have seen how the Business Board’s funding has been used by NIAB to expand the facilities on offer at the Eastern Agri-tech Innovation Hub, which I see as a huge asset to the regional economy,” he said.

“The range and quality of facilities which our businesses can utilise at the Hub are second to none, and the investment is already paying dividends with some incredibly innovative and impressive scale-ups creating new jobs and pioneering new technology.

“The Business Board has identified agri-tech as one of four priority sectors which we will feel will be the catalyst for the region’s economic recovery and rebound and continued investment in the sector will be vital to unleashing its full potential.”

AgriGrub, one of the SMEs based at the Hub, uses waste fruit and vegetables that would otherwise end up in landfill as feed for black solider fly larvae. These larvae are used in pet and livestock feed and their waste products, or frass, may have a role in crop nutrition and protection.

Managing Director Joe Halstead said: “When AgriGrub started, we were just four guys looking for somewhere to investigate an idea. There are incubators available for software companies and other similar new businesses, but very little for agri-tech start-ups, aside from the Eastern Agri-tech Innovation Hub. Without it, I doubt we’d have got AgriGrub off the ground.”

Xaobin Zhao, CEO of Cambond, another of the Hub’s SMEs creating a carbon neutral bio-resin adhesive from waste from the brewing industry, said: “Once we joined the Hub, we found that we had plenty of interaction with local farmers and other SMEs, which opened up new opportunities. We really appreciate the help and support we’ve found at the Hub.”

Take a video tour of the new facilities

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