The BioComposites Centre (BC) ERL Controlled Growth Room

The BioComposites Centre is at the forefront of research, development and the commercial application of bio-based alternatives to synthetic materials in manufacturing and industry.

GHG Emissions Trials
Puffin Produce pre-pack potatoes
ERL Controlled Growth Room

Our story

by Robert Elias, Director, Bio Composite Centre, Bangor University

Since 1989, the Bio Composite Centre has managed research projects to develop sustainable bio-based technologies that minimise the impact of materials on the environment. We work with large multinationals, SMEs, micro companies and research institutes interested in lowering their global warming potential (GWP).

A core skill in the centre is the translation of applied science into commercial opportunities. We achieve this thanks to a team of dedicated professional scientists, technologists and managers that are client focused and draw on our unique facilities, which enable us to take an idea from concept to trial.

One of our most recent successful project collaborations is POSTCOVA (Post Covid-19 Agricultural Bioscience Innovation Wales) - a 12-month research programme to secure post-COVID recovery and development of the agricultural sector in Wales.

The purpose of the programme was to improve the country's food security and provide the potential for rural job security. Our focus was on delivering data showing how new technologies could boost farming production efficiency and improve soil carbon reserves, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions (nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide), runoff of nutrients into watercourses and over/inefficient use of pesticides and fertilisers.

POSTCOVA was led by Emerald Research Ltd. (ERL), a Swansea registered Agri-Tech company, in close collaboration with the expertise and facilities provided by the BioComposites Centre, Puffin Produce Ltd. (PPL) in Pembrokeshire and Ymgynghorwyr Lisk & Jones CYF (Lisk & Jones). POSTCOVA tackled major reductions in use of Nitrogen fertiliser – which, besides bovine methane emissions, is the largest source of CO2 equivalent emissions in agriculture, through Nitrous Oxide emissions and huge energy production costs.

ERL developed an entirely new form of Nitrogen fertiliser, AZOTICA, that is applied directly to crop foliage and never applied to soil. Unlike other Nitrogen products, AZOTICA can be applied at high dose rates to foliage without causing any crop damage, allowing over 90% take-up efficiency and eliminating Nitrous Oxide emissions from added crop fertiliser almost entirely.

POSTCOVA demonstrated that by using this form of Nitrogen the partners could cut overall applications by 30-50% or more and reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by potentially 90% on a range of vegetable crops. Additionally, use of benign soil microbial mixtures and foliar applied naturally derived biostimulants improved crop growth and rooting while sequestering significantly more carbon directly into the soil.

Furthermore, through POSTCOVA, ERL developed and now has an International Patent Pending on a GHG emissions detector management device intended for use by farmers and advisors – something unavailable until now and a device that could be a game changer for environmental and emissions management.

Our advice

Firstly, develop a network – like-minded and interested people who have a genuine passion to improve the environment will be your biggest allies. That’s the starting point.

Then it’s on to funding. It costs to do this sort of work, and so access to funds is vital. You must concentrate on this element of the process if you’re going to be successful. It goes without saying that resource is important too. Even if the will and passion is there, without the right technical knowledge and expertise, you’re not going to get very far. It’s important to invest in the right people who are going to push the project along and have the ability and skillset to see it through.

You should also engage with Welsh Government early in the project, as they are very well placed to either help directly or signpost you to other partners who can support your initiative. Similarly, engaging with the public is also key and sometimes can be where science-based projects fall down.

The public knows about climate change and has an understanding of carbon emissions but sometime the detail of the work we’re doing isn’t communicated as well as possible. As scientists, we need the public to engage and so we must find better ways of communicating what we’re doing by using pictures, videos, infographics and language that means something to people.

Rather than getting bogged down with the science when we are courting public support, we need to remember the bigger picture. For instance, for the Puffin Produce consumer, what people will really understand and appreciate is not so much the science of the solution, but that their roast potatoes bought from their local supermarket will be of higher quality and grown with much reduced use of fertiliser, minimal Greenhouse Gas emissions, and kinder to the environment thanks to the work of the project team.

The impact has a ripple effect ultimately affecting the livelihood of PPL’s network of farmers. Farmers need to know what they can and should be doing to stay in business. It is trials such as this which educate, inform and encourage farmers to engage in the sort of research and development which will sustain their business in the long term.

Our metrics

  • The project has been measured by investigating the yield and quality of potatoes per hectare. Our work has not only proven that these newly formulated compounds are less harmful to the environment, but also are better at protecting and supporting the growth of crops too. This reduces waste, helps the farmer’s productivity and for the likes of PPL, which is a major employer in West Wales, can increase their profitability.
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