The West Midlands is emerging as a powerhouse in developing low carbon products, thanks to a unique Innovation Accelerator programme, led by Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

The West Midlands was selected as one of three high-potential innovation clusters to pilot the groundbreaking Innovation Accelerator programme, alongside Glasgow City Region and Greater Manchester. This unique pilot is aligned with the Government’s levelling-up agenda and takes a new co-creation approach to investment, reflecting that local leadership in the West Midlands have a tremendous understanding of the region’s strengths and how to develop them, and Innovate UK is able to connect these local strengths into national and global opportunities. By empowering local innovation, the programme works to drive regional economic growth and attract private R&D investment.

The West Midlands received a third of the £100 million funding and is making significant strides with five ambitious projects that are vital to the West Midlands Plan for Growth and now at their halfway mark.

These projects are driving key innovation activities to accelerate R&D and build innovation strengths in greener technology.
The ripple effect of the Innovation Accelerator on the wider economy in the West Midlands is substantial, and will deliver essential skills, attract private investment, create jobs, and stimulate growth.

One of the five innovative projects is ‘The Biochar CleanTech Accelerator’ project, led by the Energy & Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University in Birmingham. The project received £1.8 million to develop innovative technology to transform organic material such as sawdust or fallen and diseased trees, dried chicken manure and agricultural straw into commercially valuable bioproducts.

This green technology aims to develop low carbon products including gas, liquids and biochar, a sustainable form of charcoal which can be used as a soil and plant growth enhancer. These products could be produced by a regional industrial cluster, generating commercial orders worth £200 million and creating hundreds of jobs for the West Midlands economy.

Andy Street, Mayor f West Midlands said, “The Innovation Accelerator programme is a new way of working between the region and Innovate UK and supercharges the fantastic ecosystem we already have.

“Projects like the Biochar CleanTech Accelerator are shining a light on the West Midlands as an emerging powerhouse in the important development of sustainable, low carbon products.

“This sort of innovation will drive our industries of the future and will be at the heart of the low carbon, high value economy we continue to build, creating well paid, secure jobs for local people in the months and years ahead.”

Dean Cook, Director of Place and Levelling up at Innovate UK added: “This unique pilot has supported the West Midlands to innovate at pace and in a way never seen before, fostering co-creation between business, academia and national and local Government.

“The Innovation Accelerator programme aims to demonstrate how partnership between a city region and UK Government provides synergy and can strengthen innovation clusters as well as catalyse strong local growth. West Midlands leadership has tremendous knowledge on their R&D strengths and how to develop them, and Innovate UK can connect these local strengths into national and global opportunities. Learnings from the pilot programme are already feeding into how we evolve Innovate UK’s broader range of support for business, driving forward the UK as an outstanding place to innovate.”

Tim Miller, Director of Engagement at EBRI, Aston University said, “We are delighted to be part of the Innovation Accelerator. The Biochar CleanTech project is working with regional companies to drive forward the development and commercialisation of new products and low carbon energy from organic waste. The project is focused on the exploitation of innovations which are both environmentally beneficial and profitable in order to stimulate growth in the West Midlands.”

The Innovation Accelerator pilot runs until March 2025, and full results and impacts will be shared later. For more information, visit the Innovation Accelerator Programme website page. Innovate UK remains committed to pioneering solutions that strengthen the UK’s position in the global innovation landscape.