Press Releases

Applying Smart City Solutions to Rural Areas, February 22 2019

“How can we apply smart technology that is used in cities to rural areas such as Shropshire?” was the question posed to local businesses at a Smart Rural conference held this month by the Centre for Research into Environmental Science and Technology (CREST) at University Centre Shrewsbury.    

Smart Rural is a recent concept born out of the recognition that while cities and rural areas share similar challenges in building their economies for the age of artificial intelligence – increasing participation in education, investing in technology and coping with declining budgets – their needs are also very different.

“We already have many innovative ideas being created, tested and nurtured here in Shropshire,” said Julieanna Powell-Turner, Research Director of CREST.  “We wanted to share those local innovations, as well as look at solutions that other rural areas are employing.” 

In Scotland, where 98% of the country is rural, a Smart Rural Coop introduced a new wireless technology to fill the gap between cellular and WiFi-based networks that do not reach the isolated areas where a large portion of the country’s economic output is generated.  LoRaWAN (low-range wide access network) allows farmers to connect to the internet using low frequency radio airwaves with an easy to install, economical, base station and sensors. The signal can travel up to 10 kilometres.

“Because of its low cost and open nature, LoRaWAN unlocks a myriad of uses in remote locations, in truth only bound by your imagination.” said Paul Lindop of Smart Rural Coop.

Sue Dewhirst of Evolved Design, Oswestry, explained the virtues of Passivhaus design – which is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in new builds.  Long used in Germany, the design criteria creates ultra-low energy buildings that remain warm in the winter and cool in the summer while reducing fuel needs by 80%.  Dewhirst said the principles behind the Passivhaus eco-house can be transferred to standard house building. 

To help mitigate the costs of Passivhaus design, Carl Huntley, Managing Director of Base Architecture, suggests building villages where houses share energy sources and costs.  He also pointed to the importance of location – with brownfield, or previously used sites, being preferable because they are already poor in terms of biodiversity, “therefore development should allow for considerable improvement.” 

Local organisations offered a round of “lightening talks” on their Smart Rural themed projects, which included innovations in self-build starter eco-homes, the use of straw bales in construction, and how to leverage existing data assets. 

Simone Lowthe-Thomas, CEO of Severn Wye Energy Agency described a ground-breaking project in Wales that uses naturally heated underground mine-water to heat homes.  The first of its kind in the UK, the scheme will pump the water from 230 meters underground, where it has been warmed by the earth to 20.6C, and then use the houses’ existing radiators to distribute the heat. 

If you wish to learn more about how you can implement these ideas or need help developing your own environmentally friendly idea or product, CREST can offer research and specialist advice free of charge to SMEs in the county.

Because of the interest in the event, CREST is planning a Smart Rural 2 conference which will be held in September 2019.  You can sign up for further information at crest@ucshrewsbury.ac.uk.  

CREST successfully bid for a European Regional Development Fund grant of almost £1.2 million, with a contribution of almost £800,000 from the University of Chester.  The aim of CREST is to help and support Shropshire Businesses develop innovative ideas with an environmental theme.

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Future CREST events:

  • Transport of the Future – electric or hydrogen – June 19th 2019
  • Making waste work for your business – July 2019
  • Why Recycle? – 13th November
Maximising income and performance from your environmental assets, January 3 2019

Shropshire businesses with an interest in renewable energy are being urged to attend a fact-finding conference in the region later this month.

The Renewable Energy Association (REA), in conjunction with AD Network, has pulled together a programme of expert speakers for a day-long seminar on ‘Maximising Opportunities for Anaerobic Digestion Assets’ on January 16.

The event starts at 9.30am, at DWF LLP in Snowhill Queensway, Birmingham.

It is being backed by The Centre for Research into Environmental Science and Technology (CREST), based at University Centre Shrewsbury, which supports businesses to develop innovative ideas with an environmental theme.

The event includes an excellent list of speakers including Will Llewelyn of Red Kite Management, based in Craven Arms, who will talk on the use of biomethane in transport.

Dr Jane Yardley, leading research fellow at CREST, said: “Latest data from the NNFCC shows that there are as many as 473 anaerobic digestion plants in the UK already operational and another 326 projects in development.

“With incentives coming to an end, it is more important than ever to safely maximise income and performance of these assets.

“The speakers at this event have extensive practical experience, and with the Shropshire and Herefordshire area having one of the largest concentration of AD plants in the country, this is a perfect opportunity to learn from best practice in the business.”

Dr Kiara Zennaro, head of biogas at the REA, said: “With such a large existing asset base, there is a significant opportunity to cost-effectively optimise these plants and increase their green gas production using modification, expansion or improved operational techniques.”

The REA has been representing the anaerobic digestion sector since its launch in 2001. Having worked hard to promote this technology to the Government over the years, the sector is now recognised as a major contributor to renewable energy and the circular economy in the UK.

Several companies from Shropshire are members of the REA Biogas group.

The January 16 event will focus on how industry can improve existing plants, derive more value from existing assets and maximise commercial returns.

Dr Yardley added: “Key topics include options for retrofitting technologies to existing AD plants, improving operational performance, achieving process optimisation and enhancing efficiencies, and getting the best deal from selling renewable energy.

“It is aimed at a wide range of businesses, including farmers, funders, consultants, AD developers, scientists, academics, policy makers and environmental regulators.”

Places can be booked online through www.r-e-a.net/events.

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New director looking to foster long-term business partnerships, December 5 2018

The new director of a Shropshire-based environmental science and technology research centre says she is relishing the opportunity to build fruitful long-term relationships with the local business community.

Dr Julieanna Powell-Turner has taken on the role as academic research director at The Centre for Research into Environmental Science and Technology (CREST), based at University Centre Shrewsbury.

CREST successfully bid for a European Regional Development Fund grant of almost £1.2 million, with a contribution of almost £800,000 from the University of Chester.

The aim of CREST is to help and support Shropshire Businesses develop innovative ideas with an environmental theme. Eligible businesses can access 12 hours free support with the opportunity to engage in long term research and innovation projects with the CREST team and University of Chester Academics. All the support provided to business is free of charge.

Dr Powell-Turner says she hopes the project will have become self-funding by the end of its initial two-year term, and be working with a wide array of local businesses and research institutions.

She said: “I’m very excited to be here in Shropshire; a county where our work can bring about real business, academic and community benefits. I am keen to get around and visit as many local businesses, schools and community organisations as possible over the coming months.

“Ultimately, our aim is to become a niche and specialised academic centre which can help inform business policy and community-related decisions for the benefit of Shropshire – and the wider environment.

“We don’t want to be a jack of all trades – that’s not what we have been created for. It may be, following Brexit, that businesses need to look at a slightly different audience and target new markets. We can help companies with this long-term environmental planning.”

Dr Powell-Turner has joined CREST from Cranfield University at the Defence Academy of the UK, Shrivenham, where she was head of research, and a senior lecturer in sustainable supply chains.

She has also worked for UKAEA at Harwell/Culham in the international policy team, on wide-ranging projects in Asia, Africa and Europe, and has extensive experience of working in China and Mongolia.

She is a visiting professor at the Military Economics Academy in Wuhan, China, a visiting professor at Hindustan University, Chennai, a visiting lecturer and PhD supervisor at Cranfield University (Defence and Security), and director of sustainability of Frith Resource Management in Bridgnorth.

“The aim of the team here is to foster research within CREST, and use this to inform future strategic environmental insight in Shropshire, as well as directing and informing our teaching.

“We are already developing fruitful business and community links, and exploring how we can diversify income streams for the benefit of CREST, the University Centre, and the wider Shropshire population.

“Longer term, we’re also looking at introducing post graduate degrees on a part time basis, which would be delivered in close collaboration with local businesses, and CPD offerings, approved and accredited by professional institutions.”

CREST, which is run in partnership with the University of Chester and University Centre Reaseheath, offers access to academic experts, and a state-of-the-art laboratory at the Guildhall teaching and research base on Frankwell Quay, as well as the chance to involve students in research projects.

It also has a series of themed innovation workshops and masterclasses planned over the coming months, with a focus on areas such as groundwater, flooding and hydrology, contaminated land, bio fuels and energy, bioscience, and wastes management.

Dr Powell-Turner added: “The vast majority of businesses in Shropshire are SMEs, many at the micro end of the scale, who simply do not have the structures or resources to fund specialist research. There is much we can do to help.

“But we also need to work with larger companies and organisations which do have the resources to potentially help fund our work, going forward, on projects which ensure we can all prosper.”

A key focus of the CREST centre is also to contribute to the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, with a focus on growing the economy while cutting carbon emissions, and the 25-year Environmental Plan which sets out what we will do to improve the environment.

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