Food for thought

What’s the remit for the new Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University and how can industry get involved? Caroline Keohane, policy manager at the Food and Drink Federation tells TM.

Caroline Keohane, Policy Manager, Food and Drink Federation

Why has the Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering come into being?

The need for the centre became clear as [FDF] worked with Sheffield Hallam University on the design the new Food Engineering Masters degree which now runs there.

Setting up this degree has been an immensely important step in making sure that today’s food and drink sector has a fit for purpose qualification to develop its future talent.

To ensure that this degree course remains relevant however, we felt that it was important it should be closely linked to a world class centre for research and development. With this facility on their doorstep, student will come out of their four year course with in depth understanding of the leading concepts in food engineering.

However, the centre was never meant to be just for Sheffield’s food engineering students. It is also a hub for the development of technical and skills solutions for industry.

How has the centre been funded?

Together with Sheffield Hallam University we put in a bid earlier this year for funding from the Higher Education Research Council for England.

That bid was successful and gave is £6.9m for the centre’s development. That money is being supplemented by £1m from industry.

In the future, the centre will be run as a commercial enterprise by Sheffield Hallam University with the majority of revenues coming from services, provided by the university to industry.

What research will the centre focus on?

Unlike other centres around the country which put a heavy emphasis on recipe development, the Sheffield centre will be much more focused on technology engineering and manufacturing processes.

Crucially, the centre will focus on pre-competitive research and development which does not infringe individual company IP.

We’ll be looking at developing the manufacturing processes of the future which will allow the UK food and drink industry to sustain its globally competitive position in the face of new challenges around food security, energy costs, population growth, health and wellbeing issues and so on.

This will include looking at water usage and energy reduction, smarter packaging and waste minimisation through the use of new technologies for high pressure processing, ultra-sound and refrigeration.

We’ve identified these themes and technologies through looking at a broad range of existing research, including the recently published Foresight report, Future of Manufacturing. The Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network has also helped us pinpoint key areas of interest from its Pre-Competitive Vision for the Food Industry.

Industry leaders set food centre vision

Around 100 food and drink manufacturers have come together to provide guidance to the new Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering today.

Read more about the meeting and the centre here.

What will the model be for industry engagement with the new centre?

That is still to be scoped out, and the final model will be heavily guided by industry input.

The centre is due to open officially in 2017 and we are in the process of establishing a governance body, including an industry advisory board which will guide us in the longer term.

In the meantime, there is plenty of opportunity to engage in the build and development of the centre through a variety of working groups which we are in the process of establishing.

We will need industry’s help on scoping what equipment and technologies the facility should include. We will be looking for equipment partners for the centre who might potentially donate some equipment.

We will also need working groups to iteratively review and prioritise our research plan.

Is there a concern that your research will tread on the toes of existing centres around the UK for food and drink manufacturing research?

The Sheffield Centre is more focused on production technology and engineering than centres like the EPSRC Centre for innovative manufacturing in Food, for instance, which is more interested in how to be smarter with ingredients and the engineering of recipes.

The will be some overlap with research at existing centre but we met with a range of national research centres in July to talk about how this could be managed to avoid confusion or inefficiency. That meeting brought together the EPSRC Centre at Nottingham University but also the National Centre for Food Manufacturing at Lincoln University and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult’s MTC in Coventry.

We talked about possible collaborations on certain projects.