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Business-university partnerships cut 3,850 tonnes of CO2 through R&D programme

A programme funding and enabling business-university collaborations to tackle climate change is on target to cut 3,850 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Eco-I North West, a large-scale research and development initiative, supports small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) from any sector to develop low carbon innovations in partnership with six of the region’s leading universities – Lancaster, Central Lancashire, Cumbria, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores and Manchester Metropolitan.

Launched in 2020, the three-year programme, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is now working with more than 180 SMEs across the region to create new sustainable technologies, products and services to accelerate the green economic recovery.

With a year remaining, Eco-I NW is on target to help 369 businesses to develop 135 new innovative solutions and remove 3,850 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, supporting the UK government’s target of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Among the latest SMEs partnering with universities to drive eco innovation are Coniston Stonecraft, a manufacturer based in Cumbria, who are working with the University of Cumbria to decarbonise its production, packaging and distribution processes.

Brendan Donnelly, Managing Director, said: “The biggest change for us was plastic bubble wrap in our packaging. We now use recycled bike boxes from local bike firms and waste cloth from a local materials distributor, otherwise destined for landfill. Not only has the change improved our eco-credentials but it has reduced in-transit breakages.

“I would encourage all businesses in the North West to get involved in this initiative. Expert advice can help you build your brand, save money and, in doing so, save the environment.

“We are just a micro business and there are millions like us out there. If we can all play our part in driving low carbon innovation in our sectors, that little difference will amount to a big change.”

My Medical Mask, based in Bolton, was created by three dental clinicians in direct response to the need for PPE during the pandemic. It is working with Lancaster University to develop a new medical grade, reusable and transparent respirator mask made from biodegradable materials.

Dr Usman Riaz, Director, said: “We are dedicated to finding viable, sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives to single-use PPE and we firmly believe our innovation could be a real game-changer for the healthcare sector.

“The development of this mask will dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of the sector, reduce waste, and significantly improve communication between patients and practitioners.

“The research and development work carried out in partnership with Lancaster University has been extraordinary and we would encourage other SMEs to explore the opportunities.”

LiNa Energy, an innovator in high performance solid-state sodium batteries, based in Lancaster, is working with Lancaster University on creating a rapid quality control test for electrolyte quality in batteries to improve production processes, and reduce waste and cost.

Richard Dawson, Chief Technology Office, said: “Eco-I NW has enabled us to have simple and flexible access to leading academic experts and equipment at an attractive cost to the business. It also allows for the development of skills in the researcher that can add to the business.”

The success of the programme and its future vision were the focus of an event at Lancaster University.

Journeys to Net Zero: Collaboration Showcase brought together more than 200 stakeholders including many organisations involved in the programme.

Keynote speakers including Michael Pawlyn, designer of the Eden Project in Cornwall and an expert in regenerative design and biomimicry, journalist and author John Robb, and Camila Rock De Luigi, the architect behind Eden North.

The showcase also set out to inspire the next wave of business-academic collaborations through a series of focussed sessions on future energy technologies, carbon saving, low carbon construction, and peer learning.

Eco-I NW offers SMEs access to fully-funded interns from a pool of highly motivated and talented students across the six universities, match-funded postgraduate researchers for more long term projects, and capital grants to fund prototypes, pilots and demonstration systems.

Andy Pickard, Manager of Eco-I NW and the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation, said: “This first two years of the Eco-I NW programme have been extremely challenging in view of the pandemic, which highlights the incredible achievement that we have managed to support 180 businesses to lead the region’s transition towards a low carbon economy.

“The key message that came from our showcase event is that Eco-I NW is doing fantastic work to create a melting pot of disruptive innovation, driven by conversation and collaboration. However, to achieve the rapid transition to more sustainable economies and societies in the face of the climate emergency, we need to grow our network of collaborators.

“The North West has the knowledge, people and industry to be world-leading in the transition to a better economy which is sensitive also to the needs of the environment. And with more than 560,000 SMEs in the region, the opportunity for this crucial collective to create green growth is immense.

“This is why I would encourage any small or medium business in the region, whatever their sector and whatever stage of their journey they are on, to make contact with the Eco-I NW team.”

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