Business leaders, scientists, academics and representatives from local & central Government joined a Round Table session at The Heath Business and Technical Park yesterday for exploratory discussions on proposals to create a world-leading Centre of Excellence for Vertical Farming at the location owned by SOG Group.
The meeting was chaired by renowned Vertical Farming expert Dr Paul Myers, the co-founder of Liverpool’s Farm Urban operation, and follows cutting-edge research funded by SOG and conducted at The Heath by Dr Myers’ team, the University of Liverpool and SOG which demonstrates it is possible to grow Net Zero Carbon produce using renewable energy.
Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram, who sat in on the Round Table, described it as a ‘fascinating’ discussion which identified lots of really good points along with issues that need to be addressed to enable the project to progress. He said the innovative aspect of the proposition offered hope for the future.
Mr Rotheram added: “SOG have got really ambitious plans to turn this into a Port Sunlight of the 21st century, and part of that will be about attracting innovative businesses and certainly what Paul (Myers) has outlined today about Vertical Farming for the future and about the environmental benefits, but also about doing things differently and being first to do them, that is what really attracts me. I want the City Region to be at the forefront of all of this, I want us to be at the vanguard of new ideas and innovation and that was what was presented today.”
Dr Myers said the initial Round Table session had generated lots of encouraging thought-provoking comments revolving around the opportunities and support for the overall concept of the Centre of Excellence while identifying challenges that need to be overcome. He said: “I think the Centre of Excellence at The Heath is a very, very smart move. We are seeing a lot of investment coming into the sector, people scrambling to deliver Vertical Farms. But there’s some key issues around technology, around energy and a Centre of Excellence would really allow us to resolve a lot of those issues.”
Dr Myers said that the concept would be “building on the work we’ve done here already with the Pilot Study into using hydrogen to power a vertical farm, with the potential of growing Net Zero food, and located here, on the doorstep of Hynet, it just makes perfect sense.”
He added: “When doing vertical farms at scale, one of the key concerns is how do we power them? We’re talking 10 megawatt facilities and with energy prices the way they are, we need a constant supply of renewable energy, that’s what hydrogen offers. So, we set about conducting an experiment to see could we power a vertical farm using hydrogen onsite here at The Heath and could that be done in a carbon neutral and potentially carbon negative way? We validated and showed that it can be done, and we did it here, a world first that’s not been done anywhere before!”
The Centre of Excellence for Vertical Farming is a focal part of the vision of SOG boss John Lewis MBE to see The Heath Business and Technical Park transformed into ‘Heath Park’ – a 21st Century version of Port Sunlight. Heath Park has been adopted as a Liverpool City Region ‘Beacon Project’ and features in the UK Government’s Global Investment Atlas. SOG are currently engaging with ethical investors from around the world to fund the project and Mr Lewis says he has been greatly encouraged by the initial response to the Vertical Farming aspirations of the scheme.
Following the Round Table session, Mr Lewis said: “We heard a lot from Dr Paul Myers of how The Heath could become a Centre of Excellence for Vertical Farming. We are ahead of the game because we have actually undertaken an experiment that has proven you can grow green produce in a carbon negative environment that’s never been done before anywhere else in the world. So, here we are in Runcorn, that was once the innovators of the chemical industry, once again ahead of the game. We can bring new industry into Runcorn that will replace eventually the declining chemical industry, and that is so important.”
He added: “Vertical farming is the centre piece of Heath Park. This is similar to Port Sunlight but a 21st Century version, where people can live, they can work, and they can play. This is vital for the future of Runcorn, and we are very positive and very encouraged from what was discussed today at the Round Table. Following our launch in March of Heath Park at MIPIM (the international Real Estate Conference), the short-term aim is to attract international investment. We have already achieved that to a certain degree, medium-term is to gain planning permission and long-term is to bring in investors who can take our vision forward. It is certainly a legacy I would like to own.”
The attendees from the Round Table session have agreed to support the initiative. SOG will now be pressing ahead to arrange further meetings with key individuals and organisations including Government Ministers at the Department of International Trade, DEFRA and the Department for Energy.
The Round Table line-up at yesterday’s session included:
Dr Paul Myers – Chair: Farm Urban Founder and Consultant to Heath Park
Steve Rotheram – Mayor of Liverpool City Region
John Lewis – Managing Director, SOG Ltd
Dr Paul Cureton – Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University
Brendan Bilton – Energy specialist and Chief Technical Officer, Element 2 Ltd
Aston Fuller – General Manager, Glass Futures / St Helen’s Centre of Glass Excellence
Cllr Gill Wood – Liverpool City Region (Deputy Portfolio Holder Climate Emergency/Renewable Energy)
Dr Matt Fulton – University of Liverpool, Low Carbon Eco-Innovatory Director
Helen Hunter-Hayes – DIT: Creative, Consumer & Lifestyle sector team and leads in project managing enquiries from foreign companies in the Controlled Environment Agriculture sector.
About The Heath
The Heath Business and Technical Park is a phenomenal regeneration success story. Formed in 2000, its owner and operator, SOG Ltd, has transformed a once single occupancy corporate facility into a thriving independent business park. The Heath now provides office and laboratory accommodation for around 120 individual organisations, ranging from business services and IT specialists to those at the cutting edge of science, research and advanced manufacturing. The Heath supports around 2,000 jobs. For further information, telephone 01928 515988 or visit www.theheath.com
Note to Editors:
Picture Note: Round Table Line-up; LCR Mayor Steve Rotheram, John Lewis MBE and Dr Paul Myers
For more information on ‘Heath Park’ visit: www.heathpark-uk.com
View SOG’s Vertical Farming film:
Issued on behalf of SOG Group
Media contact: Paul Smith Associates (PSA) +44 (0) 7771 623 007