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16 August, 2021 - 23:06 By Tony Quested

£1.25m invested in Soham crop waste research hub

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 per cent 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 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. 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 per cent was match-funded by NIAB and other sources. 

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 soldier fly larvae. These larvae are used in pet and livestock feed and their waste products, or grass, 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.”

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