A new green innovation fund has been launched to help Greater Manchester SMEs transform their ideas into reality in the race to net zero.

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Businesses, charities and social enterprises in the county can get up to 60% funding towards projects worth £25,000 to help them deliver sustainable products, processes or services.

The £400,000 grant scheme is managed by Eco-I North West (NW), a £14 million research and development programme which gives SMEs access to a regional knowledge base, cutting-edge research facilities and skills involving six of the region’s leading universities – Cumbria, Lancaster, Central Lancashire, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores and Manchester Metropolitan.

Since its launch two years ago, more than 100 enterprises, including 27 in Greater Manchester, have collaborated with universities to test their ideas which could help solve global challenges such as water supply and quality, waste, energy, resource efficiency, natural capital, air quality, and food security.

These new grants will accelerate these low carbon innovations from research to commercialisation by match funding prototypes, pilots and demonstration systems.

Andy Pickard, Manager of the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation, which delivers the Eco-I NW programme, said: “Eco-I NW opens up such a huge academic regional resource to SMEs. It offers the opportunity for the North West to create an ecosystem which accelerates our transition to a low carbon economy.  This is a scheme which should allow businesses to access grants quickly and try new things.

“I would encourage leaders of SME enterprises in the North West to start a conversation with us about how Eco-I NW could help to reduce costs and their carbon footprint, improve performance, and future proof their business in a low carbon future.”

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“More than 100 enterprises from a wide range of sectors, disciplines and project themes are already collaborating with the partner universities and could double their potential return on R&D investment. 

“These grants will further support those already working with the universities, and expand the benefits Eco-I NW can offer to even more SMEs to bring to market even more sustainable products, processes or services.”

Fibrestar Drums, based in Stockport, is the UK’s largest manufacturer of fibre drums and products for the chemical, pharmaceutical, food, and automotive industries.

Colin Pardoe, Managing Director, said: “For the last two years we have been innovating to produce Europe’s first conical and nestable 100% fibre (kraft) container primarily for the agricultural sector which is edible by livestock with no waste, as well as having 66% less CO2 than a plastic pail and helping soil enrichment which also acts as a carbon sink. 

“Working with Lancaster University through the Eco-I NW programme we are driving that innovation forward to explore how we can apply our product to other materials for applications in other sectors. It is an exciting opportunity to access world-class academic expertise and facilities for innovation and develop solutions which will have a lasting impact on the environment, while supporting the growth of the business.”

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REPIC, based in Bury, is an industry leading not-for-profit producer compliance scheme that works with local authorities, retailers, distributors, and treatment facilities to provide legally compliant and responsible electrical and electronic waste recycling solutions.

It is working with a Master’s student at Lancaster University on a project to quantify the carbon savings of electrical and electronic waste recycling, and to identify further carbon savings that may be possible.

Sarah Downes, External Affairs Manager, said: “We make the arrangements for electrical waste to be collected, processed and recycled. At specialist facilities the materials from waste products are extracted and recycled and sent on for use as materials in new products. Since there is a lot of energy that goes into extracting the materials used in the products in the first place, there is a huge carbon saving from the recycling process.

“We were keen to measure this carbon saving and to look at ways we could further reduce our carbon emissions from activities such as the collection and transport of electrical and electronic waste to treatment facilities.

“This work is invaluable in both understanding our carbon footprint and what data and work we need to undertake to assess future potential carbon reduction. We’ve also been able to invest in someone’s future career development while gaining valuable insights from important, high quality research.”

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Enviroo, based in Manchester, specialises in recycling Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), the main material used for plastic bottles, and converting it into the raw material for new food-grade packaging, without any waste.

It is working with Lancaster University Researcher, Elisabeth Checketts, to better understand how we can better incentivise people to recycle on the go. 

Ahmed Detta, CEO & founder, said: “Our partnership with Lancaster University through the Eco-I NW programme is the perfect fit for our company. It will give us access to the research body of a prestigious university, and essentially create an R&D arm for our young enterprise, to help us achieve our long-term business goals. 

“The project will explore behavioural habits and trends that will keep people recycling beyond the legislation of the government and help identify what infrastructure needs to be in place to enable recycling outside the home. With this concrete research we can develop the foundation of ideas and solutions to address these behaviours and use it to engage with industry and government to achieve long term environmental impact.

One of these ideas for a customised reverse vending machine that can collect consumers’ recyclable waste while away from home.

“A successful deposit return scheme (DRS) is essential if we are to create a truly circular economy for recycling,” Ahmed Detta said. “With a lack of confidence in recycling and a growing climate emergency it’s never been more important to understand the incentives behind on-the-go recycling to help create a DRS that will create habitual behaviour.”

Eco-I NW aims to work with more than 300 SMEs, supporting the development of 135 new innovative solutions which will save 3,850 tonnes of CO2.

To find out more about the programme, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), visit www.lancaster.ac.uk/eco-i-nw/capital-grant-scheme/