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Radical Bubble Technology for Agricultural and Environmental Sustainability

Exciting possibilities for more profitable, sustainable and productive farming are being offered by the emerging technology ‘ultra-fine bubbles’ (UFBs). The technology is being explored in a £250,000 Innovate UK-funded project, led by MagGrow UK in association with Agri-EPI Centre and the Centre for Crop Health and Protection (CHAP).

UFB Technology

UFBs, also known as nanobubbles, are tiny, very stable and long-lasting bubbles, 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair, or about the size of a virus. Unseen by the naked eye, even when present in large numbers in water-based liquids, they do not rise to the surface and burst, but remain stable and buoyant for long periods of time, typically days and weeks.

The bubbles can carry gases, and substances of different kinds on their surfaces. Their stability and longevity offer great potential in agriculture for environmentally friendly spraying and irrigation, along with other applications that help address food security and environmental problems.

The use of UFBs containing ozone is already established in medical and industrial disinfection processes to kill bacteria and destroy viruses. UFBs are also used in oil, gas, and mineral extraction processes; pharmaceutical processes; food-flavouring; the production of cosmetic fragrancies; and in wastewater treatment.

While the technology is already generating huge market value in these sectors, its use in agriculture is still in its infancy. The purpose of the new project is to explore the potential for agricultural applications and integration with other technologies to provide innovative, environmentally friendly solutions for sustainable food security.

Project partners

 
Agri-EPI
CHAP
MagGrow

The project will initially focus on irrigation for delivery of the UFBs. Using Agri-EPI and CHAP’s shared soil and crop technology facilities alongside soil science expertise at Cranfield University, the project will compare the growth of plants treated with oxygen-containing UFB-water, with that of plants given untreated water. The aim of the study is to determine the effect on root development, nutrient absorption, growth and overall crop yield.

Farming application

The project team believes UFBs potentially have a host of additional applications in farming, including supporting a reduction the quantity of chemical inputs required when spraying and irrigating crops to control pests and diseases.

Dr Anthony Furness, MagGrow’s Chief Scientific Officer, said:

“From time-to-time a technology comes along that offers potential for revolutionary change and disruptive economic benefit, such as CDs and smart-phones. We believe that UFB technology has similar transformative potential for agriculture. The versatility of UFB technology, and recent advances in UFB research which have further validated its significance, suggesting too that there is huge potential for their use in advancing spraying and irrigation processes.

“Not only will this help serve to address global food security challenges and the question of how farming can be more sustainable, productive and profitable, it also offers huge potential for new enterprises and job creation across the UK.”

CHAP Innovation Hub Lead, Richard Glass, said:

“Using the unique Phenotyping and Soil Health facility, CHAP, supported by key soil experts from its partner Cranfield University, will assess and explore the application of this innovative technology and its potential role in transforming UK crop production.”

Agri-EPI’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr Shamal Mohammed, said:

“We’re excited to be contributing our expertise and capabilities in plant phenotyping – the ability to measure the structure and function of plants – to this project. UFBs offer great potential within agriculture and our research will allow us to greatly progress knowledge and understanding of useful UFBs treatments.”

Agri-tech Conference explored food resilience in COVID age

Together with the Agri-Tech Centres, Agri-EPI organised the Virtual Conference ‘Innovation for Food Resilience’. The event, hosted by BBC Farming Today presenter Charlotte Smith, was designed to showcase and discuss a host of new technologies and techniques helping farming and food production to become more resilient and sustainable. The conference gathered an incredible interest: over 1200 delegates attended the conference and over 20 countries took part. Recordings are made available on demand for those unable to join on the day.

Accelerating agrifood innovation

‘Innovation for Food Resilience’ features insights into key challenges and opportunities for the food and farming sector from industry thought leaders and how new technologies and solutions being developed across the family of UK Agri-Tech Centres could play a pivotal role in supporting productivity and sustainability.

Professor Tim Benton, from international affairs think tank Chatham House, has a clear message about the need to adapt to frequent and unpredictable change and how building resilience is a key strategy for being able to effectively adjust.

NFU President Minette Batters focuses on UK trade and transition and the seismic impact that the current unknowns will have on farming businesses. She highlights how data and innovation can empower farmers to avoid risk and the opportunity for farming to offset carbon for other sectors

Ellen Wilson, Microsoft UK’s Sustainability and Smart Cities Lead highlights the importance of measuring your own journey to sustainability to effectively manage and understand the impact achieved.   Evidence points to sustainability being better for business.

Food resilience and innovation in agriculture

The 4 Agri-Tech Centres explored different aspects of the work underway to promote innovation throughout the food supply chain. Themes covered are climate smart food systems, sustainable productivity, crop and livestock health, and food provenance and quality.

In particular, CHAP’s Dr Harry Langford, spoke about Climate Resilient Food Systems, highlighting the work of CIEL’s Duchy Future Farm; Agri-EPI Centre’s Hands Free Farm and Gelponics, a CHAP project focusing on developing an autonomous, hydroponic system centered around a novel hydrogel growing media. Another project he talked about was the Agrimetrics’ regenerative agriculture platform regenagri, an initiative aimed at securing the health of the land and the wealth of those who live on it.

Stuart Blyth, Head of Business Development of CIEL, covered Food Safety and Provenance, using CIEL’s Agriplas, a cold plasma research facility investigating the potential uses of the antimicrobial properties of this pioneering technology for the food industry. He also spoke about CHAP’s NLG Centre and Crop Storage facility, and Agri-EPI Centre’s Opti-beef project as a good example of the wide range of work being done in this area. The Opti-Beef project is about creating an enhanced decision support platform to modernise, standardise, and drive efficiency improvements across the UK beef supply chain.

Dr Shamal Mohammed, Chief Technical Officer at Agri-EPI Centre looked at Sustainable Productivity, including CHAP’s Soil Health Facility, Agrimetric’s Verde Analytics and CIEL’s Precision Grazing. Last but not least, Anna Woodley, Agrimetrics Head of Sales, covered Crop and Livestock Health with a focus on looking at whole systems rather than managing risks in isolation.

Presentations were followed by a lively Q&A session, with lots of interaction from delegates across the globe. Closing remarks, by Dr Ian Campbell, interim Executive Chair of Innovate UK, provide the key ‘takeaways’ from the event. In particular, he notes how collaboration is key and how the combined capability of the UK Agri-Tech Centres offers the front door for industry to world leading expertise and capabilities.

View on demand

The event can be viewed in its entirety on the UK Agri-Tech Centres YouTube channel.

Event impression

Get in touch

Let us know what Agri-EPI, together with the Agri-Tech Centres, can do for your organisation or how we can inspire innovation in agriculture even further and fill out our contact form.

Ericsson recognises Agri-EPI CEO Dave Ross as 5G Trailblazer and pioneer

Agri-EPI CEO Dave Ross has been chosen as a 5G Trailblazer and connectivity pioneer by Ericsson.

With 5G Trailblazers, Ericsson is shedding a light on important projects that are gaining momentum and to inspire people about what 5G can do to change their lives and businesses. The Pioneers are those working at the forefront of their industries, harnessing the power of 5G to drive crucial projects and show the full potential of 5G connectivity.

5G rural innovation

Agri-EPI is playing a leading role in a number of exciting projects exploring how 5G can support sustainable and productive farming. This includes evaluating collars worn by cows to monitor their health, welfare and productivity and using 5G-connected drones to asses the volume and quality of grass for livestock grazing.

Agri-EPI Centre is strategic partner and starting its involvement to 5G New Thinking, a programme aiming to make next generation connectivity an achievable reality for rural communities across the UK.

Dave Ross about 5G connectivity in the UK:

“The UK agricultural community is under pressure to produce more food, with less labour and less impact on the environment. Drones, autonomous vehicles, robotics and remote sensing and diagnostics will significantly change how we farm in the UK, but this innovation will only be possible if network connectivity in our rural areas is dramatically improved.”

Many belief Britain has never needed 5G more. They argue it has the potential to transform the way we live and work for the better, fast-tracking the UK’s economic recovery and enabling the use of game-changing technology in every field.

Accreditation badge PIONEER | Ericssons 5G Trailblazers | Dave Ross Agri-EPI | 5G New Thinking | ConnectivityMeet other 5G Trailblazers

Ericsson is championing the top 25 people and teams working at the forefront of 5G innovation. Learn here more about other pioneers, catalysts and conversation starters and their cutting-edge work, changing lives and businesses across the UK.

5G connectivity projects

5G New Thinking is a natural evolution of the 5G RuralFirst project, a co-innovation project to create rural test-beds and trials for 5G wireless and mobile connectivity across the Orkney Islands, Shropshire, and Somerset.

COVID-19 will drive digital transformation for livestock vets

The COVID-19 crisis is a catalyst for increasing the rate of digital adoption by UK livestock vets, according to Agri-EPI Centre Board member Matt Dobbs.

Writing for the Animal Pharm website, Matt, who is practice lead for digital technology at Stonehaven Consulting, suggests coronavirus has led the already-challenged veterinary industry to question the ways it works and identify areas for improvement.

Factors already indirectly influencing the livestock veterinary industry, including the increasing focus on domestic food production, have come even more to the fore because of the crisis. As food production responds and adapts, says Matt, livestock vets must consider how they can stay ahead of the game.

Digital transformation for livestock vets

Digital solutions for monitoring livestock health and welfare have become more varied and more affordable over the past 10-15 years, while also becoming of greater interest to the big processors and retailers. Matt believes the rise of digital technology could very well revolutionise the types of services offered by livestock vets.

Citing the move by the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to respond to Covid-19 by legalising the remote prescribing of medications to farms, Matt suggests, that should this happen across Europe, we will reach a point where the majority of medicines are dispensed by just a few companies.

Loss of revenue in this area means farm vets will have to look at new streams, very likely involving tech solutions. This could see ruminant vets becoming consultants looking after larger animal populations remotely, like their pig and poultry counterparts already do.

Matt said:

“The future is going to be very different. You will see different business models, such as dedicated farm consultant working from the back of their car. Do they really need an office and all the expense that goes into having a clinical practice? All they really need is a decent laptop, access to health and production data and a car.”

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

Minimising waste with water sustainability

Water sustainability and agriculture

In recognition of water saving week, Agri-EPI Centre’s Membership and Events Manager, Annabelle Gardner, spoke with member Grant Leslie, Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of SEM Energy, an environmentally conscious sustainability partner in waste and water effluent treatment.

SEM Energy Offices

SEM Energy Offices

What does your company do?

We are an environmentally conscious sustainability partner in waste and water effluent treatment. Our team of scientists, engineers and technologists pioneer leading-edge technologies that process co-products from ‘waste’ streams and deliver innovative water treatment solutions.

Our goal is to:

  • Reduce waste
  • Maximise solid matter capture
  • Save on haulage, storage and logistics costs
  • Increase efficiencies
  • Shrink the carbon footprint

What is your company vision?

A waste-free, circular economy in the future, securing our planet’s health and wealth for generations to come. We aim to minimise the impact of waste on the environment and, where possible, create value from its co-product waste streams and ensure compliance with discharge legislation.

Can you provide a case-study or example of the sustainable work you currently undertake in agriculture?

On-site conversion of agricultural animal slurry into organic horticulture products:

  • Aim – a reduction in slurry waste handling (Our client’s slurry production totalled 32,000 tonnes per annum.)
  • Method – using SEM technology to separate the liquid phase and de-water dry matter to create economically and socially valuable by-products
  • Results: water safe to discharge to local watercourse; solids (4% of total volume) used as fertiliser locally; 23% saving in handling, storage and transport costs.

We have been working with a client for the past year, applying our ever-evolving range of technologies and solutions to reduce the handling of slurry waste. Our aim is two-fold: effective separation of the liquid phase for treatment and re-use, and substantial de-watering of the dry matter to create an optimised, valuable by-product which can be re-purposed as livestock bedding, biofuel, fertiliser or growth media.

We implemented our patented MDM technology, which mechanically removes the liquid phase from slurries. It’s so effective that it also captures micro-solids as small as colloidal particles.

We integrated this with our I-DAF unit. An intelligent and autonomous upgrade to most DAF systems on the market today, it’s designed to maximise the removal of: total suspended solids (TSS); biochemical oxygen demand (BOD); chemical oxygen demand (COD) and heavy metals.

Sticking to our environmental guns, we used plant-based coagulant, flocculant and pH correction products that are automatically dosed, based on built in instrumentation readings. This ensured both homogenous, reliable performance and minimal chemical usage. The biodegradable formulations minimise environmental impact, whichever sludge disposal route chosen.

In order to ensure maximum nutrient capture and transfer from the liquid phase into the solids, we used another patented technology of ours – DRAM Filtration – to remove nutrients and heavy metals. DRAM utilises an organic matrix, over 99% of which is comprised of an existing and sustainable, agriculturally produced, grain-based, waste co-product from alcohol distillation.

The filtration process works through sorption, and readily sorbs ammonium nitrate and phosphorous. Combined with an additional proprietary reagent (DRAM+) which provides potassium, these form the essential fertilising elements.

Can you give an example of one of your technologies that focuses on water saving and water sustainability?

H2OPE – our flagship product for the agricultural market:

  • Removes volatile contaminants and de-waters
  • Optimises valuable ingrained nutrients
  • Remaining solid matter can be pelletised for use as fertiliser or as a nutritionally balanced growth media

The environmental benefits:

  • Reduction in application of nutrient rich liquids to agricultural land
  • Decrease in diffuse pollution of waterways due to agricultural run-off
  • Reduced carbon impact due to reduction in transport of slurries off-site
  • Significant reduction in the carbon generated by the manufacture of fertiliser

The social benefits:

  • Fewer greenhouse gases
  • Effluents can be treated on-site
  • Economic savings, as one of the by-products is steam, which can be used for on-site energy generation and distilled water.
  • Less odour emissions

Can you describe the significance of water sustainability in the agricultural industry?

Our goal is always to clean water well enough for re-use and re-purpose at source, whether that is for washdown water or perhaps irrigation. An absolute must for us, this aligns not only with our aims, but those of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Goals.

The sector has been, and will continue to be, paramount to the global economy. By protecting our ecosystems from potentially harmful co-products, we are sustaining not just the agriculture industry, but also the evolution of a circular economy.

Unlocking new UK funding for agri-food innovation

Agri-EPI Centre can help

Agri-EPI is seeking to lend its expertise to businesses in the agri-tech space to help them access the UK Government’s £1.25 billion government coronavirus support package.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the new package this week to protect firms driving innovation in the UK. It includes a £500 million investment ‘Future Fund’ for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, made up of funding from government and the private sector. SMEs focusing on research and development will also benefit from £750 million of grants and loans.

UK funding

Agri-EPI has the expertise to help de-risk both the financial and technical aspects of accessing and utilising grants from the new support package.

Chief Executive Dave Ross explained:

“Agri-EPI works to develop partnerships and provide support to UK businesses seeking to develop, evaluate and market technical and engineering products which support efficiency, profitability and sustainability across the food supply chain. We work closely with academia and science and have a portfolio of publicly-supported facilities and assets which are open for use by our partners.

“With a strong track record of success in supporting businesses of all sizes to successfully access funding and to invest in opportunities, we are primed to offer our expertise to any businesses seeking to access this new UK Government funding and we urge those in the agri-food sector with an interest accessing the funding to contact us so that we can lend our expertise to making it happen.”

Rishi Sunak said the targeted and tailored help would ensure firms in some of the most dynamic sectors of the UK economy – ranging from tech to life sciences – are protected through the crisis so they can continue to develop innovative new products and help power UK growth.

For further details on the new UK funding opportunities, visit the UK Government’s website.

To discuss collaboration with Agri-EPI Centre, please contact Business Development Director, Lisa Williams.

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

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