Groundbreaking R&D programme ends on high note with innovation awards

Dr Andy Pickard on stage at the Eco-I Awards
Dr Andy Pickard on stage at the Eco-I Awards

Eco innovations developed by North West businesses alongside leading universities to tackle climate change have been honoured at an awards ceremony.

Their successes have been celebrated at the Eco-I North West (Eco-I NW) awards at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on May 18.

Delivered by a consortium of universities - Lancaster, Central Lancashire, Cumbria, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores and Manchester Metropolitan - Eco-I NW is a research and development programme to create new sustainable technologies, products and services.

Over the course of the programme it will have given more than 330 SMEs access to the extensive knowledge base, cutting-edge research facilities, built new networks to drive innovation, and supported the development of innovative solutions which will save 3,850 tonnesof CO2.

Winners on the night included Used Kitchen Exchange, based in Widnes, who are behind an innovative, ethical solution for pre-owned kitchens. They scooped the award for ‘Most Impactful Business Innovation’ for their work with Liverpool John Moores University to develop a carbon saving tool to benchmark and promote carbon and tree savings for reuse, with average savings of 3.5 tonnes of carbon and 1.6 trees every time a kitchen is reused.

Co-founder Phil Lord said: “We are grateful for the recognition from Eco-I NW. Working with Liverpool John Moores University has been instrumental in validating our sustainability credentials and consequently the success of our business. The collaboration enabled our idea to achieve eco validation and engage with the industry.

“From starting the business eight years ago, we have grown to a workforce of almost 40 and a £6m turnover. We have proven the economic and environmental value of a circular economy and look forward to expanding our vision to power circularity in the Interiors Industry including kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and other furniture.”

The award for ‘Most promising new business’ went to The Rebuild Site CIC, based in Carlisle, who take surplus waste from construction sites and donate to community groups, encouraging the adoption of circular economy principles within the industry. They worked with the University of Cumbria to create a materials database to show how much CO2e is saved from diverting the waste from landfill, and sharing that information with customers.

Maisie Hunt, Project Director, said: "We are thrilled to receive this Eco-I North West award. Working with the University has been invaluable in validating our model and demonstrating the carbon savings that can be achieved from keeping surplus materials in their current most usable form."

The award for ‘Carbon journey’ went to Silverwoods Waste Management, based in Altham, Lancashire, who worked with Lancaster University to demonstrate spreading cement bypass dust on agricultural land enhances soil quality and provides a more sustainable alternative to other fertilisers.

Julian Silverwood, Managing Director, said: "We are thrilled to win this recognition from Eco-I North West. Our work with Lancaster University has been a huge success in helping us understand the full carbon sequestration potential of cement bypass dust when applied to agricultural soils. It has validated that there is huge potential for the use of industrial waste to establish negative emission solutions, which is good for the environment and contributes to the UK’s aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”

The ‘Community champion’ award went to Relic Plastic CIC, based in Heysham, who collect post-consumer plastics such as DVD cases, bottle tops, sweet tubs, and industrial plastic waste and manufacture high-quality, handmade products such as shower combs, knife handles and furniture. Working with University of Central Lancashire and Lancaster University it has been able to increase its partnership with the community including 50 businesses, schools and community groups to reduce plastic waste in landfills and increase awareness and sustainable action.

Kiki Callihan and Martin Paley, co-directors, said: "Working closely with the university has been a very valuable experience for our organisation. As a small organisation we have limited resources to devote to research, so the support provided by Central Lancashire and Lancaster universities over the last few years has been fantastic.

“The fact that this award recognises the partnerships we have forged in our community is very important to us. We couldn't have done it without their help to make an impact on plastic waste and using it as a resource.”

The ‘Best concept in development’ award went to City Centre Commercials, based in Liverpool, who worked with Liverpool John Moores University to manufacture and test its novel GeoBrick, a clay-free unfired brick which is made from recycled aggregate from construction, demolition, and excavation waste.

Meanwhile, the awards recognised the work of students involved in the research projects.

The ‘Most impactful postgraduate’ award went to Matthew Bond from Lancaster University for his work with REPIC, based in Bury, who operate an Environment Agency approved not-for-profit producer compliance scheme for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

The research project helped REPIC better quantify its downstream carbon footprint by understanding and quantifying the carbon footprint of the collection and recycling of WEEE.

Matthew said: “I am thrilled to have won the award. Eco-I North West has been an excellent opportunity for both the students and the businesses involved. I have greatly enjoyed contributing to the important research field of electronic waste, and highlighting the many benefits that optimising its recycling achieves from a carbon emissions perspective.”

Sarah Downes, Environmental Affairs Manager at REPIC said: We were hugely impressed with Matthew, including the speed with which he picked up how the industry worked and the way he applied himself to the project. To get a student dedicated for 12 months for a focused R&D project directed to addressing our challenges, and underpinned by academic support and access to appropriate software and Life Cycle Inventories has been invaluable.”

The ‘Most impactful undergraduate’ award went to Lee Ollerenshaw from the University of Central Lancashire, who worked with ELE Advanced Technologies, a high precision parts manufacturer based in Colne. The project focussed on improving resource optimisation and waste management and supported the company's net zero roadmap.

Lee said: "It was a fantastic experience working with ELE to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Being able to apply my research in a real world setting and see success was extremely rewarding and precisely what Eco-I NW set out to achieve."

Manesh Pandya​, CEO of ELE, said: "ELE has embarked upon a journey to net zero with the objective of becoming carbon neutral in Scope 1 and 80% reduction in carbon emissions in Scope 2 within the next 12 months. Lee's project has helped in understanding our challenges and steps we need to take to meet our objectives.

"Industries like ELE are only going to be successful in their ESG journey by developing close collaborative relationships with academia. We are very fortunate to have linked up with UCLan, Eco-I North West, and in particular with Lee on this project."

Eco-I NW, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), was led by the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation (CGE) team at Lancaster University.

Commenting on the awards, Dr Andy Pickard, manager of the CGE, said: “Eco-I North West has been an incredibly successful programme which has showcased what can be achieved via collaborative research between academia and business.

“These awards have been a celebration of the impressive work by our six regional university partners, talented undergraduates and postgraduates, and hundreds of small and medium sized businesses.”

“Over the last three years we have created a melting pot of disruptive innovation, driven by collaboration which will continue long into the future. But if we are going to truly achieve the rapid transition to more sustainable economies and societies in the face of the climate emergency, we need to grow our network of collaborators. I would encourage businesses to connect with this region’s universities and start the conversation.”

Keynote speaker at the awards was Wayne Hemingway, the celebrated designer, who spoke about his passion for sustainability.

Eco-I North West is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.ECO-I Awards

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