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A BEACON of light for the green economy

Bangor University is a partner in a newly announced £20m programme to boost the green economy by helping business in West Wales and the Valleys develop new technologies to turn locally grown plant crops into commercial products, announced by Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones AM, at the Senedd. [Tuesday, 15 February).


Led by Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science (IBERS), with partners Bangor and Swansea Universities, the BEACON initiative will use pioneering techniques, known as bio-refining, to assist Welsh companies in developing new low carbon technologies and new ways of making products that are traditionally made from oil.


Backed with £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund, BEACON aims to establish Wales as a Bio-refining Centre of Excellence and make a vital contribution to tackling climate change. It will work with companies to convert crops, such as rye grass, oats and artichokes, into products including pharmaceuticals, chemicals, fuels, cosmetics and textiles.


Mr Jones, who is also the Minister for the Economy and Transport, said: “We are committed to building upon the expertise within our Universities and industry to develop new technologies and products which will increase our competitiveness and position Wales on a global platform.


“Stimulating innovation through R&D is at the heart of Economic Renewal driving forward productivity, economic growth and increasing prosperity across the region.”  


Bangor University will build on work to develop new materials from plants which can be used to develop innovative products, having recently discovered that compounds found in some local plants can be used to control problems like potato blight.


Professor David Shepherd, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Bangor University said: “Bangor has a long and successful track record of cooperative research with companies to find alternative uses for plant based materials which can be grown locally.”


“We welcome the opportunity to extend this work as part of this new venture which will promote the opportunities offered to Welsh businesses by adopting and exploiting low carbon technologies. Our work with local company Phytovation is just one example of our work in this area across a broad range of industries.”


Case study:

Bangor University has been working with Phytovation – a Caernarfon based company - to develop new technologies to produce pharmaceuticals from plant sources. 


This collaboration has enabled the company to progress new products such as Senna powder for use in making high quality laxatives, based on plants that could eventually be grown in the North Wales region.


As a result, Phytovation has also achieved Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification from the Medicines & Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which will make them more attractive as a manufacturer and increase their chances of winning new business overseas.


Andy Beggin of Phytovation said: “Our partnership with the University is highly valued and we hope that this funding will act as a springboard for companies such as ourselves to increase our business and boost the Welsh economy.  We very much look forward to working with the university in the future for our mutual benefit.”


The benefits of bio-refining for Wales:

  • Replacing some of the industrial chemicals produced from oil with similar molecules from plants that could supply potentially lucrative markets within easy reach of Welsh producers.
  • Turning crops such as Rye Grass, Miscanthus, Oats and Artichokes into valuable fuels and chemicals would cut back on greenhouse gases, would increase fuel and chemical security whilst adding value to the Welsh economy.
  • Chemicals derived from plants have uses in a range of sectors, including transport, food, health, hygiene and the environment
  • They include new materials called bio-composites and bio-plastics
  • As well as creating and safeguarding jobs in the West Wales and the Valleys, the pioneering work will help develop science in Wales.

Publication date: 15 February 2011