NEWS: £1.25 million investment in pioneering crop waste research facility

6 Aug 2021
Eastern AgriTech Innovation Hub solar farm

The Eastern AgriTech Innovation Hub, a specialist Soham-based crop and food waste research centre, has completed a £1.25 million upgrade of its facilities, including investment in growing facilities, green technology and power production.

The investment, 50% of which is from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board, includes new polytunnels, a glasshouse, heat pump, sustainable water-use facilities and a 33KW solar farm installed on the site.

The Hub promotes the reduction of unsustainable crop and food waste, as well as reuse of this waste into more useful and valuable products. At the facility, run by the crop research organisation NIAB, start-up small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are supported as they find solutions and research this process, also known as waste valorisation, with the aim of eventually upscaling their businesses.

NIAB’s 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.”

The site has now doubled in size since it opened in 2015, with access to the extra 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 shows the carbon-saving outcomes. Other facilities and organisations who wish to follow the Hub’s lead are welcome to book a visit for a demonstration.NIAB’s Dr Lydia Smith and Austen Adams, chair of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board, inspect the new 33KW solar farm at the Eastern AgriTech Innovation Hub

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

Half of the site upgrade has been funded by a grant from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board. The remaining 50% was match-funded by NIAB and other sources.

Austen Adams, chair of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Business Board, recently visited the Hub (see image on the right, featuring Austen Adams and NIAB's Dr Lydia Smith) saying, “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 AgriTech Innovation Hub, which I see as a huge asset to the regional economy.

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

“The Business Board has identified agritech 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 agritech start-ups, aside from the Eastern AgriTech 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.”

Dr Lydia Smith finished: “It’s vital for these SMEs, and our future licensees, that we invest in the site now. These emerging companies need a sustainable infrastructure to grow and create their products. We’re confident the improvements in the Eastern AgriTech Innovation Hub will allow SMEs to grow and prosper in the waste valorisation sector.”

View our video tour of the new facilities at the Hub below or view on YouTube