Carbon and climate-friendly hemp for car parts are one of the types of innovative methods that will be supported by a new scheme funded by the European Union and the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) to boost eco-businesses and create jobs.

Innovation in Crops, or InCrops, has received a total of £2 million from EEDA and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Competitiveness programme to develop an enterprise hub linking the region’s top researchers with businesses looking to develop new products.

Norfolk-based Lotus Cars is already doing this, by piloting the use of locally-produced hemp in fibreglass panels. By replacing the man-made materials, the amount of embedded carbon in the finished product can be reduced, as well as cutting the carbon needed in transportation.

InCrops is based at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, with partners across the region including Cambridge University School of Plant Science, Rothamsted Research, Building Research Establishment, John Innes Centre, Essex University and Renewables East – the regional agency for renewable energy. 

The scheme is also good news for farmers as new markets for novel crops will be created, using plants which can thrive in a changing climate. Demand for post-harvest waste is also set to increase as new uses are found such as biomass fuel. 

Cindy Winn, Rural manager at EEDA said: 

“InCrops will bring together some of the East of England’s world-class researchers, with the entrepreneurs who can turn their ideas into commercial realities.  

“By using renewable resources, we can develop a low carbon economy and help to tackle climate change by reducing our dependency on petrochemical products.” 

David Morrall, International director at EEDA said: 

As we move towards developing low carbon solutions and more sustainable ways of growing our economy, initiatives such as the InCrops project provide a vital stimulant for research and product development. The unique focus of the region's ERDF programme, on low carbon economic growth, really demonstrates the added value of European investment in this agenda."   

Dr John French, InCrops director, said that sustainability and resource efficiency were key:  

"There has been a good deal of controversy in recent months about the cultivation of crops for fuel that could be used for food.  

"But it's not necessarily a question of cultivating crops either for food or for other uses. We need to maximise our use of crops and reduce waste. We also need to investigate the future crops we should be growing as climate change starts to affect the land and agriculture of this region. These crops can be used for fibre, high-value chemicals and extracts, protein and starch.” 

More than £2 million funding for the £4 million project has come from EEDA and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which is also managed by the development agency. EEDA funding is worth £1,050,000 and ERDF funding amounts to £1,153,500. 

The five-year project will use the region’s scientific expertise to create new plant –based products such as bio-plastics and packaging. It will also look at using plants in innovative ways such as using hemp for building and car components.  

InCrops can also look at creating markets for novel foods and more unusual crops such as black cohosh, for medicinal uses, and honesty, which can be used for oil. 

The scheme aims to create 140 jobs, support 120 new low carbon products or services and achieve a significant reduction in carbon emissions.