Tech that turns CO2 into animal feed part of £24M boost to put UK food production on path to net zero.

REACT-FIRST | TECH THAT TURNS CO2 INTO ANIMAL FEED PART OF £24M BOOST TO PUT UK FOOD PRODUCTION ON PATH TO NET ZERO

  • Government backs leading technology project in Nottingham with over £2 million funding to help recycle carbon dioxide from Drax power station into sustainable animal feed 
  • The cash injection is part of £24 million Government investment for innovative agri-tech projects across the UK, including fruit picking robots and autonomous crop systems 
  • Funding will help the UK meet its net zero ambitions by reducing carbon emissions in food production 

An innovative project that has Nottingham as its base, converts carbon dioxide into clean animal feed is one of nine pioneering agricultural technology projects that will make UK food production more efficient and produce less pollution, thanks to £24 million of government funding.

The REACT-FIRST project will receive over £2 million of government investment to generate clean, sustainable food for fish and poultry with an up to 75% smaller carbon footprint, through its unique technology that converts CO2 into animal protein. Led by carbon recycling biotechnology company Deep Branch, the project will obtain critical data about cost, digestibility, nutritional quality and carbon footprint of Proton™, a novel single-cell protein (SCP) produced by Deep Branch from CO2 directly from industrial emissions.

The funding will allow the the first-of-its-kind, end-to-end value-chain-wide consortium of ten industry and academic partners to provide a greener alternative to soy and fishmeal for the animal industry, enabling industries that traditionally create higher levels of waste, such as agriculture, to contribute to a cleaner environment. 

Members of the REACT-FIRST consortium are Deep Branch; Drax; BioMar; AB Agri; Sainsbury’s; Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC); Synthetic Biology Research Centre, University of Nottingham (SBRC Nottingham); The Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling; Nottingham Trent University, School of Animal Rural and Environmental Sciences; and, Innogen, University of Edinburgh.

REACT-FIRST is one of nine projects benefiting from a £24 million government package, which are applying big data and cutting edge technology like artificial intelligence and robotics to UK farming, with the aim of establishing a more efficient system of food production that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

It is one of nine projects benefiting from a £24 million government package, which are applying big data and cutting edge technology like artificial intelligence and robotics to UK farming, with the aim of establishing a more efficient system of food production that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

The funding is being awarded as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Transforming Food Production challenge, which aims to set food production systems on the trajectory to net zero emissions by 2040 and producing food in ways that are more efficient, resilient and sustainable.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

“To protect our environment and meet our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, we must harness the very best of UK innovation across all sectors, supporting the most creative and pioneering ideas. 

“From robotics assisting our farmers in fruit picking, to technology that converts CO2-to clean animal feed, the incredible and cutting-edge projects we are backing today represent the future of farming. Working with the best of British science, we are accelerating the transition to net zero food production, boosting jobs and productivity and driving forward the UK’s economic recovery.”

Other projects receiving funding include the world’s first Autonomous Growing System (AGS), led by Optimal Labs in London, which will receive over £2 million to provide autonomous technology that controls climate, irrigation and lighting, enabling any crop variety to be grown in any location. This will significantly increase production levels and resource-efficiency in existing UK greenhouses, helping to protect the UK’s food system against climate change and population growth.

A further project led by Saga Robotics in Lincoln will receive nearly £2.5 million to perform the largest known global demonstration of robotics and autonomous technologies on a farm. The robots will assist farmers by carrying out essential, energy intensive physical farm processes such as picking and packing fruit, and treating crops to reduce critical pests and diseases. This will help provide a more efficient food supply at a cheaper cost, allowing farmers to commit more time to the wider running of their farms. 

Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said: 

“It’s great to see investment in these outstanding ideas which will help us tackle the faming industry’s greatest challenges, from achieving net zero emissions to investing in sustainable alternative protein for animal feed. Farming has never before been at the centre of such exciting and forward looking innovations.”

Projects receiving funding include:

  • REACT-FIRST (Nottingham-base) led by Deep Branch, a carbon recycling biotechnology company, will receive over £2 million to support the project to obtain critical data about cost, digestibility, nutritional quality and carbon footprint of Proton™, a novel single-cell protein (SCP) produced by Deep Branch from CO2 directly from industrial emissions, and encompasses all key stakeholders in the Proton™ production value chain. Using feed industry-defined data and advanced robotics, the project aims to further improve the strong nutritional profile of Proton™ and sustainably disrupt the UK’s aquaculture and poultry industries.     
  • Autonomous Growing System (London), led by Optimal Labs, will receive over £2 million to provide autonomous technology that controls climate, irrigation and lighting, enabling any crop variety to be grown in any location. This will significantly increase production levels and resource-efficiency in existing UK greenhouses, helping to protect the UK’s food system against climate change and population growth.
  • Robot Highways (Lincoln) led by Saga Robotics, will receive nearly £2.5 million to perform the largest known global demonstration of robotics and autonomous technologies on a farm. The robots will assist farmers by carrying out essential, energy intensive physical farm processes such as picking and packing fruit and treating crops to reduce critical pests and diseases.
  • Production at the Point of Consumption (Maidstone) led by Evogro, will receive nearly £850,000 to research and develop the next generation of autonomous growing systems, to ensure they are affordable for new consumer markets, and to make it an economic method to produce mainstream crops.
  • InFarm2.x (London) led by vertical farming business InFarm will receive over £3 million to develop a farming system that can grow a wider variety of fruit and  vegetables than is currently possible by growing their crops in vertically stacked levels, rather than on a single level surface, such as a field. It will also use technology including gas sensors and monitoring cameras to observe the growth patterns of their crops, helping to identify the optimal growing conditions, increasing productivity. 
  • AGRI-SATT (London) led by Feed Algae, will receive over £4 million for its project which is based around an algae growing system that exploits natural seawater to produce food in deserts. This project aims to combine data from the growing system with satellite data to automate production and increase the nutritional quality of the food produced.
  • GelPonic (Manchester), led by AEH Innovative Hydrogel, has developed a new growth material that will improve crop yields on farms worldwide.  It will receive over £1 million to develop a material  that conserves water and protects plants by filtering pathogens and includes a new graphene-based IoT device that allows remote-monitoring of conditions in vertical farms.
  • REMEDY (Bath), led by Quality Milk Management Services, will receive over £1.7 million to provide precision technologies to dairy farmers enabling them to access real time data to ensure their farm is as productive, efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. This includes technology such as wearable devices for cows that tracks their behaviour and nutrition, ensuring farmers can make more informed decisions when managing their farm. 
  • TUBERSCAN-DEMO (Lincoln), led by B-hive, will receive nearly £2 million to develop and test an innovative demonstrator system to measure average potato sizes and yield throughout potato fields, providing insights that will enable selective harvesting to take place, optimising crop yield and resource use. It is anticipated that this technology could generate an estimated 5 – 10% increase in UK marketable potato production.

 Melanie Welham, Executive Director, BBSRC, part of UKRI, said: 

“The projects we have announced funding for today, show that the food production sector is a beacon of innovation. These brilliant ideas have the potential to make food production more resilient, efficient and less resource intensive.

UKRI’s funding programme for this sector is ongoing. In this funding round, we’ve awarded funding to 9 innovative companies. In the future, we encourage businesses to come forward with fresh ideas to help UK agriculture.”

Peter Rowe, Chief executive, Deep Branch (project lead -REACH-FIRST) said: 

“This is a ground-breaking project that will be critical to the commercialisation of our new type of single-cell protein, or SCP, called ProtonTM. By developing ProtonTM-based feeds for fish and poultry, we will positively transform the UK’s food production systems. Currently, most animal feed protein sources are imported from overseas, making the UK dependent on complicated and fragile supply chains. REACT-FIRST has been created to focus solely on addressing this problem, whilst ensuring that animal products are dramatically less carbon intensive. Projects like REACT-FIRST and the UKRI backing and funding of it, are key to help the industry move towards achieving net-zero emissions.”

The investment in new resource efficient, low-emission production systems is part of the government’s commitment to boost spending on research and development to £22 billion by 2024/25. It follows the publication earlier this month of the government’s ambitious R&D Roadmap setting out plans to establish the UK as a science superpower.  

ENDS 

Today’s funding is being awarded through two competitions – the Future Food Production Systems competition and the Science and Technology into Practice Demonstration competition. It forms part of UK Research & Innovation’s (UKRI) Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Transforming Food Production (TFP) challenge, which aims to set food production systems on the trajectory to net zero emissions by 2040 producing food in ways that are more efficient, resilient and sustainable.

Notes to editors 

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