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Bees & Buildings – opportunities for the bioeconomy

Our BioVale Roundtable meetings bring together a select group of key regional stakeholders to provide expert opinion, share knowledge and create opportunities across the bioeconomy.

At our latest meeting, sensor technology and sustainable construction were the hot topics of the day.

Acoustic technology to protect our pollinators

Casey Woodward, Founder & CEO of Yorkshire based AgriSound, explained how his company’s innovative sensor technology can be used to spy on the insect world. By tracking the behaviour of bees and other insects they can help farmers, beekeepers and policy makers protect and encourage our declining populations or insect pollinators.

Pollinating insects are vital for our economy, food supply, gardens and maintaining healthy ecosystems. The Wildlife Trust estimates that pollinating insects alone are responsible for pollinating £690 million worth of crops every year in the UK. Unfortunately, our pollinators are in decline, the cause of which has been linked to the destruction of habitat from the intensification of agricultural methods & increased urbanisation, pesticides, herbicides, climate change and disease. It is important that we address this problem as the loss of our pollinators will cause our food supplies and ecosystems to collapse.

Casey told the Roundtable about the new technology AgriSound is developing that will help our understanding of pollinating insect populations so that we can target interventions and regulate to protect them. Their sensors, which are installed on farmland and in the wild, use proprietary algorithms to interpret acoustic data to monitor insect activity and welfare.

The technology can be used to inform the protection of pollinating insects on an international, regional and local scale. As well as aggregating the data from the sensors into a database, which will become the largest single database on insect diversity in the world, the data can also be sent to an app so that farmers and beekeepers can monitor their populations in real time and allow them to intervene appropriately.

Sustainable Construction

Ron Gatenby, Chairman & CEO of Simpson (York) led a discussion on new materials and sustainable practises being developed for the construction industry. Simpson (York) are a privately owned York based construction company working within the Yorkshire and North East regions. They specialise in fit-out projects for a wide variety of buildings including heritage properties, leisure, retail and industry.

The construction industry has a significant environmental impact, but there are ways to mitigate this impact and Ron explained the sustainable practises which can be seen in the construction of their York offices and other projects.

  • Grasscrete has been used in the car park which enables the functionality of a hard surface but reduces the thermal mass of the slab, a contributing factor to the heat island effect, and reduces flooding by allowing rain water to trickle away
  • Toilets use grey water pumped from underground storage tanks
  • A biomass boiler reduces the consumption of fossil fuels
  • FSC wood is used in construction, ensuring that environmental and social standards have been met when using new wood
  • Solar panels generate power to heat the building and keep it air conditioned
  • Brise soleil is used to reduce the heat gain in summer by deflecting sunlight away from the building.
  • Appropriate materials from construction projects are reused again or recycled
  • A sustainable drainage system in the car park reduces surface water flooding
  • Hybrid cars reduce the business’s fossil fuel consumption when travelling

The big opportunities to improve sustainability in the industry were discussed and included:

  • Increased use of materials made from biobased ingredients such as hemp
  • Moving towards alternative power supplies such as solar and wind power
  • Addressing barriers to reusing and recycling construction materials, including restrictions imposed by building codes and material standards

Ron sparked an interesting discussion when he suggested that more accurate methods of measuring energy use were needed to help drive consumer demand for more sustainable construction practises. Our meeting attendees come from all corners of the bioeconomy and it became apparent that the issue of accurately measuring environmental performance is a hot one which impacts the whole bioeconomy, particularly with regard to measuring carbon use and sequestration and ‘green washing’. It felt like we only skimmed the surface of this issue as there was a lot to talk about, possibly a topic for our next BioVale Roundtable.

Blog by Sara Goodhead, BioVale

Featured photo of beehives by Simon Berger on Unsplash

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