University of Exeter assists Cornish businesses

Published on: 13 August 2014

A unique research partnership between ECEHH and two Cornish organisations studied 35 households to help understand the links between housing, lifestyle, health and wellbeing.

More than 450 Cornwall organisations working in areas from the natural environment and health to renewable energy and manufacturing have benefited from academic and research expertise at Exeter’s Penryn and Truro campuses since 2012.

Many of the businesses were helped with support from the University’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), where renewable energy is one of the areas high on the agenda.

Dartmouth Wave Energy Ltd (DWE) was keen to access the University’s research channels to develop their innovative wave energy device - SEARASER. The collaboration resulted in the University putting together a consortium, which included multiple university partners and renewable energy stakeholders in Cornwall, to help build DWE’s first full size prototype.

Alvin Smith, Founder, Dartmouth Wave Energy Ltd, said: “The University engagement has helped the company to get funded, secure a ready-made client for its products and greatly increase its knowledge of the sector.”

Another who used university expertise was Rame Peninsula Beach Care, a charity and community project that aims to clean up our beaches and raise awareness of the damage being done to the marine environment by the ever-growing tide of plastic pollution.

With the support from the University the charity embarked on a joint research, art and public engagement project looking at the impact of plastic in oceans with Dr Matthew Witt.

The collaboration explored the origin of waste on the Rame Peninsula and will enable analysis of the potential impact of maritime waste on the sea’s biological systems. Alongside this research various art works and sculptors will be created from plastic and materials recovered from the beaches, creating a joint science and arts awareness project that aims to change the environmental plastic issue.

The project came about after a successful application to the Exeter Catalyst fund, which supports public engagement in university research, and an ESI Creative Exchange proposal, which supports creative and research collaboration.

The ESI is a centre of academic excellence in its field and leads cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research into solutions to problems of environmental change; the businesses who were assisted were aligned along the institutes themes of the natural environment, clean technologies, and social and sustainability.

Based in Truro, the University of Exeter Medical School’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health conducts world-class research into the complex links between the environment and health. By working with Cornish companies to explore new intellectual and technical territory, the Centre is providing an important platform for business development amongst small and medium sized enterprises.

In 2012 the Centre launched its pioneering In Residence scheme which, by bringing businesses and researchers together, has fostered partnerships that have contributed to product development, commercial growth, and the exploration of new markets.

As part of this scheme, digital agency Buzz Interactive has joined forces with the Centre’s researchers to create a mobile application that monitors the symptoms of the chronic illness Ménière’s Disease. The tool is giving a unique insight into the disease whilst providing Buzz with vital experience in developing products for the medical sector.

Working with business - Buzz Interactive from ECEHH on Vimeo.

Working closely with the UK Met Office to widen the reach of the partnership, the project is hoping to uncover links between Ménière’s Disease and meteorological conditions – one day functioning as an early warning system for people with the condition. Following international recognition for the app the team are also exploring how this approach can be commercialised and applied to other chronic conditions.

Lindsay Axten, Project Director, from Buzz Interactive explained: “One of the main benefits for us has been having proven work within the medical sector, combined with the cachet that partnering with an institution like the Centre carries. We’ve got a live application that’s collecting data and that’s really helped to open this sector up to us.”

Research and development can often provide the catalyst for companies to evolve and expand. In a collaboration that’s providing valuable input to the development of their business strategy, social housing provider Coastline Housing has linked with the Centre to understand how new building practices - such as improved insulation and energy efficiency - can affect occupant health.

As part of a European Social Fund PhD project, the team are working with the Centre’s experts in the built environment and health to help reduce the presence of damp in homes, and understand the health impacts of related factors like mould. This award winning enterprise-research partnership is at the cutting edge of built-environment research and has been expanded to include the ground breaking technology of Cornish company, Carnego Systems.

Collaborating with both Coastline Housing and the Centre’s researchers, Carnego are using their digital monitoring tools to collect real time data (such as temperature and humidity) on the indoor environment. The partnership is helping Carnego to develop a robust research approach for creating and testing new applications; an important step in developing their products and services.

This continually evolving project is uncovering new academic knowledge that will provide a competitive advantage to both companies, as well as feeding into regional and national policy.

Mark England, Head of Technical Services at Coastline Housing said: “Working with the Centre has been a refreshing and positive experience for us. The professionalism, level of knowledge and fresh approach this project has brought has captured everyone’s enthusiasm. High-quality research is critical to any future decisions we make, so its importance can’t be underestimated.”

Researchers from the ESI in Penryn and European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Truro participated in these business partnerships which were facilitated by the Knowledge Exchange teams within Innovation, Impact and Business at the University.

The Knowledge Exchange teams from both the ESI and European Centre were nominated for the Outstanding Partnership Working in the University’s 2014 Professional Service Recognition Awards for their work with businesses in Cornwall.

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