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Albotherm awarded £500k Innovate UK Grant to scale smart shade coating for commercial greenhouses

Albotherm, the Bristol-based advanced materials startup in agritech and construction, has been awarded a significant grant from Innovate UK to spearhead a groundbreaking project in collaboration with Pilkington, Flavourfresh and Vitacress.

Albotherm has developed a Smart shade coating that is transparent in cold weather but automatically converts to opaque in hot weather to provide on-demand shade, optimising crop growing conditions, and reducing solar overheating.

Albotherm’s technology is vital in supporting our planet’s requirement to produce 50 per cent more food by 2050 to feed a global population reaching nearly 10 billion.

This need is compounded as available arable land has decreased by 30 per cent in the last 40 years due to the effects of urbanisation and climate change.

Changing climate also brings more unpredictable weather conditions, which can cause stress to the crop, resulting in a 25 per cent decrease in yield.

As Albotherm’s product is responsive to changing temperature it ensures that the greenhouse environment remains optimised for growth, maximising crop production and securing the global food supply in a changing climate.

In commercial greenhouses, their technology allows crops to benefit from the early morning and evening light, while being protected from the heat of the midday sun, boosting overall light levels by 18 per cent and demonstrating a 34 per cent increase in crop yield compared to standard shading approaches.

This ambitious project, which commenced in May 2023 has received funding from the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) as part of the Farming Innovation Pathways Grant, administered by Innovate UK.

The aim is to address the pressing need for sustainable solutions in the horticulture sector by maximising energy efficiency and reducing environmental impact.

The project aims to develop and test Albotherm’s innovative smart coatings, with a focus on the optimisation and scale up of their retrofit temperature-responsive shade coating for commercial greenhouses.

Initial testing is scheduled to commence in Spring 2024 in partnership with Flavourfresh and Vitacress, two of the UK’s leading soft fruit and culinary herb growers, with commercial scale crop trials.

Albotherm is also partnering with world leading glass manufacturer Pilkington to develop a glass coating for new greenhouse construction that can be produced using Pilkington’s large area manufacturing processes.

This new product will have a longer lifetime, maximising the environmental benefit of Albotherm’s technology and allow access to a wider market opportunity in industrial glazing.

In addition to the project funding from Innovate UK, Albotherm has also benefited from growth support from Innovate UK EDGE, delivered by Innovation and Growth Specialist, Marc Rambaud.

“Marc and the team at Innovate UK EDGE have helped us to build a really strong framework across areas like design, HR, internationalisation and funding and finance,” said Molly Allington, CEO of Albotherm.

“It’s been great to have both the general support from Marc, and to also work with specialist like Adele Reynolds who helped us to revamp our funding strategy and secure our most recent grant.”

“We are excited to receive the Innovate UK grant and to collaborate with leaders in the UK horticulture industry. We are honoured to have the support of Flavourfresh, Vitacress, and Pilkington on this ground-breaking project and we look forward to contributing to a more sustainable future for the horticultural industry.”

Anna Colley, lead technologist at Pilkington Technology Management Limited, said: “We are continually developing the next generation of glass products and have recently launched our Pilkington Botanical glass range focused on optimising greenhouse farming.

“We are very much looking forward to working with Albotherm and exploring the potential of combining their smart shade coating with our glass technology as a potential step towards more dynamic systems for combating temperature variations in greenhouses.”

Andy Roe, production manager at Flavourfresh said: “This Albotherm project is exactly why British horticulture is number one in the world.

“Flavourfresh are so excited to be partnering with Albotherm on such an incredible and innovative concept. The outcome of this work will be so beneficial to all growers across the sector. It’s projects like this that make our jobs so stimulating and exciting for future challenges.”

Pictured l-r Dr Sian Fussell, CTO and Molly Allington, CEO

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