27 September 2017
Eco-innovation event shows north west enterprises how university business partnerships can boost both sustainability and profitability.

Nearly 200 Business managers, academics and researchers networked and shared project examples at the Centre for Global Eco-innovation Showcase event at Lancaster on 20 September.

The award-winning Centre is part funded through the European Regional Development Fund.  It has helped more than 300 small and medium enterprises to develop and grow since it launched in 2012, in sectors from food and transport to energy and flood management. It aims to work with a similar number of businesses over the next three years, matching academic researchers with business people who have a problem they need to solve or a product, service or process they want to develop. The aim is to aid business growth and help a transition to a low carbon economy in all sectors.

The Centre responds to challenges which are local and global in the fields of: Energy, Water, Waste, Natural Capital, Food Security and Resource Efficiency. The event showcased success stories to provide insight and inspiration on how businesses can benefit from accessing the research capability of the university. It provided an opportunity to describe current projects and discuss possible future collaborations.

Energy

One of the exhibitors, Stopford Energy and Environment, has been involved with the Centre for Global Eco-innovation (CGE) since the beginning. “We have had four PhD researchers working with us,” said Dr Ben Herbert from Stopford. “Two have graduated, one has come back to us on a fellowship and the fourth has just started, researching how you can get energy from biomass more efficiently by using a fuel cell.”

Water

A case study described a project investigating the effectiveness of Natural Flood Management (NFM), involving a wide range of stakeholders including public bodies like the Environment Agency, private businesses like JBA Consulting and local farmers, and third sector organisations like the Eden Rivers Trust and community groups in areas affected by flooding.

Dr Nick Chappell, from the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), said the Centre for Global Eco-innovation (CGE) played a crucial role in bringing the partners together.

“There is a need to deliver the missing scientific evidence on the effectiveness of National Flood Management (NFM), as a low carbon mitigation and adaptation technique, particularly to those advising government or implementing NFM, often SMEs.”

Professor Rob Lamb, from the JBA Trust, said that the project is based on the work of a previous Lancaster CGE PhD researcher, and on the network of relationships they have developed with other areas of the University like statistics. 

Food

Professor Ian Dodd, a plant scientist from the LEC, kicked off the case study session on Food security. “The Centre is very much focused on carbon savings and the projects the Centre is working on should increase both sustainability and profitability. “You might think that is a tall order but in the plant sector these two goals are completely compatible. For instance, about 90% of fertiliser applied to soil doesn’t benefit the product, leaching or being lost to the atmosphere. If we can improve plant nutrient uptake, we can be more sustainable and more economic at the time.”

P.I. Bioscience, a crop enhancement company, is working with PhD researcher, Rob Kempster, who is researching the nitrogen fixation process to allow farmers to use less fertiliser.  Bruce Luzzi, Programme Manager for Soybean at P.I. Bioscience, said: “Our technical strategy starts with understanding plant physiology and targeting those processes. It’s that strategy the universities can help us with.”

Other people, like Victoria Blacken, whose start-up company produces reusable nappies for older children and adults, has worked with the Centre through the Low Carbon Innovation Forum at Lancaster University Management School, which meets monthly.

“My company is currently on a market stall scale but I want to upscale it.  The Low Carbon Innovation forum has offered great peer support,” said Victoria.

Michael Mumford, from start-up Bailrigg Diagnostics, who is working with PhD researcher James Nicholson said “The scheme will be a great help.  We've spent a couple of years getting the technology right, and we expect James to help us to develop further applications of this technology and speed up the process.”

The Centre provides enterprises with innovation support at a number of different levels from one month of support to three year long term R&D at PhD level all supported by a leading academic.  In addition, the Low Carbon Innovation Forum provides guidance and inspiration to businesses who want to innovate and deliver new products and services with a reduced environmental footprint.

Dr Andy Pickard, Manager at the Centre, said: “We are currently looking for R&D projects from one month to one year in duration. We are seeking businesses with challenges which our research base can address to deliver low carbon solutions in all sectors. Our next Low Carbon Innovation forum cohort will also start early in the New Year.

The message of the day was that the University is open to multiple ways of business collaboration and the offer was “Join us”.

The Centre for Global Eco-Innovation is “The Outstanding Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation Initiative 2015” according to the UK Research Councils.

For more information visit the website or contact Ian Wright, Business Partnerships Officer, on 01524 592382 / i.wright1@lancaster.ac.uk