University soil research earns success at inaugural Tech South West Awards

Professor Mark Fitzsimons and Dr Kate Schofield are presented with their Tech South West Award (Credit: Gareth Williams Photography)

A University of Plymouth project exploring whether fabricated soils could help ensure future global food security has earned a major regional award.

FABSOIL, for which the University is working with the world-famous Eden Project, is exploring how recycled and waste material could be transformed and then reused in agriculture and other sectors.

Scientists working on the project believe it could revolutionise the soil industry, leading to custom-made soils being designed for a range of locations and markets.

Formally launched earlier this year, the project has now won the Tech Research category at the inaugural Tech South West Awards.

The award recognises the successes already achieved through the project, which have included showing that – through analysing its features over an extended period – a fabricated soil has many of the characteristics that are expected from a natural soil.

Research published in August this year also showed that adding biochar to soil constructed from waste materials, reduces the loss of essential nutrients such as nitrogen and carbon.

The project has also generated interest across the UK and globally, both within the soil industry and various mainstream media outlets.

The FABSOIL project is being led by Professor Mark Fitzsimons and Dr Kate Schofield with funding from Agri-Tech Cornwall, a three-year £9.6 million initiative part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, with match-funding from Cornwall Council.

Speaking about the award Mark, Professor of Environmental Chemistry, said:

“Soil performs so many vital functions and is at the core of healthy ecosystems, while disposal of waste to landfill is expensive and not sustainable. The design of high value soils from waste materials offers international opportunities in terms of food security, carbon sequestration and achieving a circular economy. It is crucial that soils created are sustainable in the long-term and that is one of the key ongoing challenges we aim to meet through the FABSOIL project. We are delighted and very proud that our research in this area has been recognised through this award.”
Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University, added:

“We are delighted that the FABSOIL research has been recognised through a Tech South West Award. This multi-partner project led from the University of Plymouth is tackling a key global issue in relation to the threat to food security from soil degradation. FABSOIL’s focus on manufactured soils from recycled and waste materials has important implications for soil sustainability over the long-term.”
The Tech South West Awards cover the whole region from Bath and Bristol to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, recognising and celebrating talent, creativity, business success, education, leadership, diversity and more.

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FABSoil

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<p>FABSOIL wins at Tech South West Awards (Credit:&nbsp;Gareth Williams Photography)<br></p>
<p>FABSOIL - samples</p>

FABSOIL

The FABSOIL (Fabricated Soil) project will support the development of the manufacture and analysis of artificial soils. It will develop artificial soils made from recycled and waste materials that are fertile and remain stable. Such soils, made from waste-streams, could provide new and exciting commercial possibilities and an excellent sustainable resource – especially in the face of widespread soil loss and destruction in many parts of the world. This could provide a material for major landscaping and land restoration projects that can often demand large quantities of ‘top soil’, with the added advantage of a ‘clean sheet’ with regards to plant pests and pathogens.

Find out more about FABSOIL

For more information contact Dr Mark Fitzsimons or Yve Metcalfe-Tyrrell

Agri-Tech Cornwall

The United Nations has set a target to double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, and ensure food production systems are sustainable by implementing resilient agricultural practices by 2030.

The Agri-Tech Cornwall project is a step towards achieving these targets.

Find out more about the project

Sustainable Earth Institute

The Sustainable Earth Institute is about promoting a new way of thinking about the future of our world.

We bring researchers together with businesses, community groups and individuals to develop cutting-edge research and innovative approaches that build resilience to global challenges. 

We link diverse research areas across the University including science, engineering, arts, humanities, health and business.

Find out more about our institute