Sheffield Hallam’s National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering (NCEFE) has been awarded part of a £2m grant researching rice production in China.

NCEFE is the lead partner of the two-year project which will look into improving rice processing and rice waste minimisation in China.

The project aims to optimise the rice milling process by creating a digital rice mill using state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence methods in conjunction with Industry 4.0 technologies.

Rice is the staple food of two thirds of people in China, and this project will increase availability of rice for the population, which continues to increase rapidly, without putting additional pressure on agricultural land.

NCEFE will receive more than £330,000 as part of the grant from The Newton Fund UK China Agri-Tech Challenge (through UKRI) and will be working with several partners in the UK, including Siemens, Koolmill, New-Food Innovation and Aston University, as well as three Chinese partners from a mix of academic and industrial sectors.

Martin Howarth, director of the NCEFE, said: “This research has the long-term ambition of helping to solve serious issues in China – increasing demand for rice from a growing population and food waste.

“At present, there is a lot of wastage in rice harvesting and milling in China and other rice growing regions in the world.

“This project aims to review and improve this process using enabling technologies supported by new business models and education to support technology adoption.

“This is an exciting opportunity to work with industrial and academic partners – in the UK and China – on this complex project which addresses important environmental and socio-economic challenges. “

Professor Tim Baines, director of the Advanced Services Group, Aston Business School, said: “It’s wonderful to hear that this project has been awarded. It is an excellent example of how servitization and advanced services can be applied by a smaller manufacturing business to penetrate new markets and boost exports.”

The grant comes in the build up to the opening of the new home for the National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering alongside the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, which is set to be completed in September.

The new research-led centre is set to open this summer and will include pilot-scale production facilities, laboratories, workshops and teaching spaces.