Green light for BEACON project boosts Wales’ bio economy
The Counsel General and Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles, visited Aberystwyth University today to open the new Bio-refining Centre and Seed Biobank buildings at the University’s Innovation and Enterprise Campus.
Mr Miles, who is responsible for EU funding in Wales, announced a £3.7 million EU investment to extend the award-winning BEACON bio economy programme, led by Aberystwyth University, until 2022.
This funding enables the University of South Wales to join Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea Universities as a new partner, bringing further knowledge and expertise to the project, and widening the benefits to cover the whole of Wales, and beyond.
The BEACON team brings business and academic partners together to translate research into product innovation. Physical, chemical and biological technology will be used to transform resources derived or grown in Wales, like plants and biological wastes, into commercial, useful end products including plastics, renewable materials, fuels and speciality chemicals through bio-refining.
Through the project, energy crops like rye, a high-sugar grass, can be transformed into biofuels, while derivatives of plants and micro-organisms can be re-purposed to create chemicals or building materials for use in the pharmaceutical, transportation, eco-construction, energy and healthcare economies.
In addition to Aberystwyth University’s research into bio-refining, Bangor University will work on biobased plastics and packaging, , Swansea University will continue their work in Life Sciences, and the University of South Wales will focus on research into larger scale digestion and fermentation of plant matter by bacteria and fungi within the bio-refining process.
An additional £440,000 EU funds will expand the BEACON project across Wales, tackling specific local challenges, while connecting new partners and making full use of region-specific natural resources.
In total, around 140 businesses in Wales will benefit from the extension to the project.
Mr Miles said:
This project is widening our understanding of the use of natural resources that are readily available or that can be grown in Wales, as well as waste derived from food production and conservation management techniques, to develop new products. It is a highly innovative way to implement green technologies in Wales and boost local resilience by recycling and re-purposing natural resources.
The Welsh Government has ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and rebalancing the Welsh economy. Wales is leading world class research and innovation into the low carbon economy, while Welsh Universities should be rightly proud of their place at the cutting edge of global academic research into bio-refining and the bio economy.
This EU funding is enabling essential progress in R&D, science, infrastructure and skills in Wales, as well as promoting economic growth and creating new jobs. It’s really important that this funding continues, to enable Wales to carry on leading research into new technology systems capable of running on low power, and to progress towards a more equal, more prosperous, and greener Wales.
Professor Iain Donnison, Director of BEACON, said:
This extended funding is a vote of confidence in BEACON, which has worked successfully with Welsh companies to grow the green economy since 2010.
Because of climate change, we need to transform our economy from one based on fossil fuels to one based on natural feedstocks, and we will also need to create a ‘circular economy’.
In a circular economy, we think of wastes as resources and we design products and processes that allow materials to remain in use or be recycled rather than being thrown away.
An economy based on natural feedstocks is an opportunity for rural areas of Wales, and will allow farmers to diversify beyond food production.