A key area for Reaseheath is supporting the development of the region’s bioeconomy. Bio-based, sustainable and renewable resources that replace fossil resources are a central theme of the circular economy. We focus on creating new value chains from agricultural and horticultural wastes producing materials such as fibres, biopackaging, intermediaries, proteins and nutrients. Some examples of ongoing and future projects include:
Working with horticultural partners, staff at Reaseheath have developed physical and biological processes to treat tomato waste (vines, leaves and fruit) and extract:
- Proteins with fire-retardant properties for use in commercial fire extinguishers
- Fibres processed to produce punnets in which tomatoes are packed and sold at supermarkets. At the moment, 1 million punnets/year are made but the plan is to produce 2 million next year. The UK market is at least 225 million punnets/year
- Cellulose and hemicellulose that is incorporated in packaging film used to wrap tomatoes and punnets
- Short fibres with antimicrobial properties that, when spun into a thread, are incorporated into wound dressings and bandages
- Compounds (natural biocides) that when sprayed onto tomato plants, stimulate auto-immune responses in plants and makes them less susceptible to flying pests, moulds and viruses
- Biogas that is used for heating the glass house
- Nutrients that stimulate plant growth
- Microfibres that have fire-retardant properties and can be incorporated during the manufacture of fibreboard (MDF).
Work is ongoing to test the compostability of the punnets and the biofilm, and to assess the impact on shelf life, flavour and nutritional value of tomatoes presented in the biodegradable packaging.
A programme of work is being prepared to apply the same processes to cucumber waste and to other glasshouse wastes to understand the opportunities to produce fibres, packaging, intermediaries, proteins and nutrients. The work will be part of several MRes projects.
A local landowner and business is growing bamboo as an alternative crop. Bamboo is a potential source of several useful materials and can be cultivated to maximise production of these. Reaseheath staff are developing and testing cultivation and processing solutions to extract:
- Proteins that can be incorporated in nutrition bars for the sports and health markets
- Phytoliths for use in pest control formulations for poultry flocks and animal enclosures
- Essential oils that have antibacterial/antimicrobial properties similar to tea tree oil
- Fibres processed to produce yarns for textile and clothing
- Biomass as a fuel resource.
In addition work is planned to evaluate bamboo as a component of integrated wetland construction/sediment traps to reduce diffuse pollution from agricultural land, and for natural flood management solutions. The work is being undertaken as part of a PhD thesis.
The Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant at Reaseheath comprises a 1250l CSTR digester and a 1250l plug-flow digester. These digest farm slurry from the dairy herd and other agricultural wastes. The AD plant is the only college-based system in the UK.
We will be working with a variety of agricultural, AD and environmental consultancy businesses to test, trial and evaluate a variety of technologies/systems relevant to farm-scale AD applications. These include:
- Performance of different commercial additives on biogas quality, gas yield and digestate
- The benefits of adding biochar to slurry before digestion
- Nutrient and fibre recovery from digestate
- Digestate dewatering
- Management and control of ammonia and phosphate levels in stored digestate.
The tests and trials will form the basis for several MRes projects.
There are several hundred farm-scale AD plants in the UK digesting mainly slurry and manure from dairy, beef, pig and poultry operations. These produce biogas, which can be used for CHP, heating and transport applications, and digestate, which is spread to land as a nutrient/soil enhancer. However, many of these plants are not operated efficiently nor maintained to the necessary standards. Reaseheath is developing an accredited training programme for owners and staff to strengthen skills, improve safety and environmental performance, optimise system efficiency and improve margins.