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Could R&D help turn abandoned coal mines into underground farms?

This is an amazing idea on so many levels. In the most recently published government R&D tax credit statistics, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Sector only claimed 0.61% of the overall R&D tax credit claims. That’s only 205 of 33,880 claims made by SME in 2016-17.

The average claim in this sector is £48,780, just under the overall average. Imagine what your business could do with that investment. There are many stages of this mine-to-farm transition that will probably be eligible for R&D tax relief. So if you’re involved, don’t miss out.

Underground farms in old mines?

The BBC recently reported on the possible development of old coal mines into astonishing vertical farms. Professor Saffa Riffat, President of the World Society of Sustainable Energy Technology, said: “I’m very excited about the enormous potential. Rather than import so much food by air, rail and sea, we could grow a lot of it here and in huge quantities. I wish I had thought of this idea when they were making all the miners redundant. We may have been able to offer them an alternative job.”

Given that there are approximately 25,000km-sq of abandoned mines and tunnels and 150,000 shafts in the UK, you can see why he is so excited. In just a 7m-sq shaft, you can grow 80 tonnes of food every year. That’s up to 10 times more than the same amount of space on the surface of the ground.

According to Nottingham University’s Professor Riffat: “You’re looking at about £30,000 to set up one shaft and the running costs are very low – less than the energy consumed by three houses each year. With natural sunlight, the costs are even less.”

But how can you farm vertically?

Our traditional expectation of what farming crops looks like makes it quite difficult to imagine how vertical farming works. Vertical farming basically means that crops are suspended all the way down the mine shaft. They are either in water, or are sprayed with water and their essential chemicals. Lighting can be done cheaply using existing LEDs, or by using more high-tech fibre optics.

What are the benefits to creating underground farms?

There are several benefits, some of which we have already touched on:

  • Water supply is already down there
  • Not affected by either seasonal weather changes or the extreme weathers caused by climate change
  • Needs less energy to run than traditional farming
  • Takes less land space
  • Carbon dioxide naturally occurring
  • Regeneration of jobs in the local area (previously decimated when the mines closed)

These are just a few of the benefits. Obviously, being able to feed a rapidly growing UK and global population using energy efficient techniques is a key benefit.

What R&D tax credit opportunities are there?

Each individual element of building, maintaining and improving these vertical farms require innovative research; like carbon capture technology, water systems, nutrients pumps and harvesting stations. Even the finer details, such as a water distributing nozzle, may be refined and improved to become more efficient. Thereby potentially qualifying for R&D Tax Credits.

All those ideas that are researched, tried and fail are also eligible for R&D tax relief. The success of the project is not a determining factor in the success of your claim.

The whole Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries sector are currently losing out on their share of R&D tax credits. Even though there are regularly impressive innovations in this area. If this new idea gets past the bureaucracy of technical and legal issues, particularly to do with ownership, then underground farms are an exciting new route to be involved with. Just don’t forget to plan in your R&D Tax Credit claim, if possible, from the beginning of your project. That way you are creating your claim’s evidence as you work.

 

Jamie Smith

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