Boost for region’s bioeconomy as University THYME project secures £1.8m funding

A highly successful university collaboration, which is driving increased productivity in the bioeconomy, has been awarded a further £1.8m.

Dr Martin Taylor, University of Hull

The THYME project, a collaboration between the Universities of Hull, Teesside and York was awarded the funding from Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund to continue working together to develop innovation assets to help to boost economic growth.

The fast-growing bioeconomy represents a major economic opportunity for the UK and particularly for the North of England, which has world-class bioeconomy assets.

The THYME project aims to build on these regional assets to drive increased productivity of companies operating in the bioeconomy across Yorkshire, Humberside and the Tees Valley.

The project also aims to pave the way to a more sustainable future where industry uses renewable sources of raw materials. 

Professor Dan Parsons, Director of the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull, said: “The fast-growing bioeconomy represents a major economic and carbon net-zero opportunity for our region, which has a range of world-class bioeconomy assets.

“The collaboration and knowledge exchange fostered by the THYME project, across the partners and industry, has driven a range of new products and services over the past three years.

“This extension of the programme by Research England will continue to increase innovation in the bioeconomy sector and sector productivity, and I look forward to the leading role we can play from the University of Hull in delivering these advances.”

The Research England funding is part of a commitment announced today by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng MP to increase annual public investment on R&D to a record £22 billion, while stressing the need for private sector investment.

The funding is a cornerstone of the new BEIS Innovation Strategy, which sets out plans to cement the UK’s position as a world-leader in science, research and innovation.

The bioeconomy is central to key strategic areas identified in the strategy – Bioinformatics and Genomics; Engineering Biology; and Energy and Environment Technologies.

Dr Joe Ross, Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC) Director at the University of York, said: “For the past three years, the engagement and enthusiasm of all the staff across the three Universities have been exceptional, they have found new and innovative ways to work together and to reach out to bio-based businesses and other regional stakeholders.”

The new THYME funding will allow a further twenty industry partnership projects to drive growth in the region’s bioeconomy and help tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges.

Dr Jenny Spear, THYME Programme Manager at the University of Hull, said: “Crucially, this extension will deepen the interactions between the partner universities and increase the maturity of technologies being developed in partnership with industry.

“There is a great opportunity for regional economic growth in this sector and we will continue to work with young people, educators and business, to enable skills development and longer-term employment opportunities.”

The University of Hull is involved in nine of these twenty projects, representing a mixture of follow-on funding to develop previous research ideas as well as completely new partnerships.

These include innovative work around bioenergy including improvement of biogas production via anaerobic digestion, low carbon production of biofuels, and creating new sources of green energy from biowaste streams.

East Riding-based Jesmond Engineering was a partner on a phase one proof-of-concept project with the University of Hull and the Biorenewables Development Centre, which has just been awarded follow-on funding through the next phase of THYME.

Simon Walker, of Jesmond Engineering, said: The THYME Project enabled Jesmond Engineering to collaborate on research in waste to energy but also shape a meaningful direction for the utilisation of waste from bio-refinery processes.

“By coupling our experience in design engineering with the practical skills from Hull and the BDC we have a created a strong and award-winning team. We are excited for the next steps that THYME2 will bring where we will construct the next generation of solid biofuel pellets, a technology that can be applied in the UK and the developing world.

“This continued collaboration will drive joint work in the biotechnology sector, one that Jesmond Engineering is keen to advance in the future of green energy.

THYME will also build on previous work on the industry skills gaps by incorporating content into graduate courses aimed at upskilling the bioeconomy workforce of the future.

It will support skills development in academia and industry via a series of three entrepreneurial training workshops as well as funding a further series of networking events involving Catch (Hull), BioVale (York) and NEPIC (Teesside) to continue connections between academics and staff from regional businesses.