Rejuvenating Soil Carbon to Support Net-Zero Agriculture

UEA Junior Researcher Sam Keenor's internship at Greenworld led him to successfully apply for a PhD scholarship, enabling him to continue collaborating with the business on research that promotes net-zero agriculture.

Greenworld Ltd is based in West Norfolk and offers a wide range of waste management services. Founded by CEO Steve Kilham in 2000, the company’s vision is to develop a sustainable environment for it’s employees, the community and wildlife in which it operates. Greenworld supports local businesses in the East of England with its recycling services and now recycles at least 90% of the waste it collects. As an environmentally-conscious company, new initiatives for sustainability are of paramount interest to further their objective of zero waste to landfill.

Greenworld has received funding and support through EIRA to connect with academic expertise from the University of East Anglia to further explore net-zero agriculture initiatives.


The Challenge


The UEA-Greenworld collaboration  began with a consultancy contract that involved Professor Brian Reid providing opinion and advice on the chemical properties of paper crumble (a co-product of paper recycling). Through this initial contact it became apparent that there was potential for paper crumble to bring multiple benefits to soils. This prompted the submission, and subsequent funding, of an EIRA internship and Proof of Concept project that explored the influence of paper crumble on a range of chemical, physical and hydrological properties of soil.

The encouraging results from the Proof of Concept project highlighted significant uplift in soil carbon stocks, as well as increased levels of essential plant nutrients following paper crumble amendment. These findings supported the successful application for an EIRA Research and Development award.

With this new funding, Greenworld have continued to benefit from the specialist facilities and academic expertise that the University of East Anglia can provide, including:

  • A dedicated field trial on light (sandy) land (where paper crumble benefits are expected to be particularly strong);
  • An economic analysis of how soil carbon uplift might mesh with the evolving ELMS farm payment framework;
  • Novel material characterisation and carbon stability modelling to qualify long-term carbon storage potential of paper crumble.
  • A means through which to engage stakeholders in DEFRA and agricultural industries (agronomy, land agents and equipment suppliers).


The Approach


Sam Keenor was supported via an EIRA internship for a 12-week period. Internships add significant value to innovation projects, bringing new skillsets to unlock new business and research opportunities. Internships also enable students and graduates the chance to gain real hands-on work experience, extend their professional network and be paid for their time.

The project offered Sam, a junior researcher at UEA, the opportunity to increase his understanding of how his research skills could be applied in a real commercial setting while furthering his development as a next generation scientist in soil carbon rejuvenation.

Sam was given a specific task to work on for the Proof of Concept project which involved collecting and analysing data from primary and secondary sources to produce a carbon farming report. This was then used to create a suite of reports and presentation materials for future dissemination and marketing project results to a range of stakeholders.

“The internship has provided us with a valuable route to have specific studies done on aspects of our operations to gain greater understanding of their benefits.  The work cements our relationships and enhances our offering and image within our commercial space. This work is extremely current and gives greater clarity on where Greenworld should look to focus going forward. Further work with Sam during his PhD will allow us to take these foundations forward with valuable research being presented over the duration of his studies.” – Steve Kilham, CEO, Greenworld


The Outcome


The internship provided a gateway for Sam to progress into a longer-term appointment as a Research Associate on both the EIRA Proof of Concept and R&D projects. His experience on these projects has enabled him to gain a valuable insight into a career as a research scientist and has helped him to become an expert on soil carbon and paper crumble. His experience working with Greenworld on the EIRA-funded projects positioned Sam as an exceptionally strong PhD applicant and was instrumental in him securing a PhD scholarship. The PhD project will support a further 4 years of research collaboration with Greenworld and will provide the foundation upon which to build his professional career.

Through the internship I could continue the research that I had begun during my Masters Degree and that had fascinated me so much. The EIRA POC and R&D internships with UEA and GreenWorld opened the door to the world of research and academia, providing me with the perfect opportunity to practically demonstrate the skills and knowledge I had gained over 4 years of University while simultaneously providing me with opportunities to learn many new skills that can only be learned working in the real world.

Working with both GreenWorld and the University provided me the insight into working in both the academic and industrial sectors and helped me make the choice to take the next step and apply for a PhD position. One of the best aspects of the internship was being given the opportunity to not only partake in world leading research but to actually take the lead and help define the direction of the research.

I’m thrilled that the PhD is another further continuation of the work I have been doing with GreenWorld over the last few years, as there is definitely so much more to learn and discover in this field. I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity that has helped shape my decisions for the future.

I believe the skills and opportunities that internships give will be extremely valuable in the future and will provide me a great deal of experience that I can draw upon going forward in my PhD.” – Sam Keenor, UEA


“The internship was the spark that ignited the relationship with Greenworld. The 3-month internship provided a catalysis that allowed a sustained dialog and for UEA to appreciate the needs of Greenworld. Fulfilling these needs has opened new lines of research and allowed exciting results to be obtained. These have cascaded forward to support a progression of funding awards and have supported the production of technical reports and scientific papers.” – Prof. Brian Reid, UEA


Next Steps


To continue the collaboration with UEA, the company is supporting a PhD CASE studentship, which Sam Keenor, who successfully applied to continue his research in this area. The project was also showcased at the AgriTechE Innovation Hub (July 2020) and has provided momentum to engage with DEFRA’s consultation on ELMS.

If you would like to find out more about paper crumble and soil, Prof. Brian Reid and Sam Keenor have produced the video below, which highlights the benefits of this additive.