Although CARIAD's focus is on food security, we are an integral part of WINR, the Welsh Institute for Natural Resources. One of our partner units in WINR is the BioComposites centre (BC), which focuses on “green chemistry” and bio-based alternatives to synthetic materials. They have just won funding to lead a project with the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, and informed by industry partners including Waitrose, to use Welsh ryegrass to create sustainable products for the food packaging and cosmetics industries – the Sustainable Ryegrass Products (STARS) project. STARS will see a biorefining process used to isolate and extract sugars and other components from ryegrass and convert them into low carbon products. These include biofuels, platform chemicals and pulp-moulded packaging products for retail applications such as food packaging.
|Welsh ryegrass. Photo Dr Adam Charlton, WINR|
Funding of almost £600,000 from the Welsh Government's Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) programme is supporting the project. A4B is a six-year, £70m programme of support aimed at unlocking the commercial potential of Wales' Higher and Further Education Institutions. Managed by the Welsh Government, and supported by EU convergence funding, it works closely with Wales' academic institutions, to help harness the knowledge, expertise and facilities that exist within academia and convert this into economic benefit for Wales. The Welsh Government is highly supportive of two Welsh institutions working with a wide range of partner businesses, both indigenous and multi-natonal, on a novel project with commercial potential.
The project will collaborate with six industrial partners representing all links in the SME supply chain - from biomass cultivation and harvesting to processing and commercial end-use - and will demonstrate the production of these materials at a pilot scale.
To inform the process, Waitrose will research public engagement in the bioeconomy and the adoption of green products. They see a natural synergy between this project and their own approach to “Treading Lightly” and reducing their environmental footprint. Waitrose are keen to move to easily recycled fibre-based packaging for foods, where this can show positive environmental benefit, and a key element of the project will be engaging with the public from an early stage to ensure they are delivering solutions that meet their needs.
|Pears packaged in new material developed from Welsh ryegrass.||Photo: Waitrose|
We believe the complementary expertise of the two Welsh universities and of the industrial partners will be the key to success. A key objective will be the creation of products with lower carbon output than those produced from oil. Activating a green industry in this way is a global aim, and we hope to demonstrate an integrated approach to land utilisation. We don't want to displace existing agricultural activity, but aim to provide farmers with an opportunity to diversify and find alternative applications for surplus grass produced in the UK. Through forging relationships with world-class organisations with significant market insight, the project offers a real possibility to commercialise a number of product streams from ryegrass.
The project will take previous research in this area to the next level, i.e. a demonstration at a commercially relevant scale using Bangor’s existing pilot-scale facilities in the BEACON project, and working with a supply chain to bring this concept to the public’s attention.