The Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy will be based in the Department of Chemical Engineering and will involve seven universities – Loughborough, Cardiff, Heriot-Watt, Imperial College London, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield.
It will also involve more than 20 industrial and international partners, ranging from multinationals such as ExxonMobil, Shell and Unilever to SMEs and national and local initiatives, including the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
Loughborough will also be involved in the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials, led by UCL.
Its goal is to explore how better design and manufacturing of products and structures made from mineral materials such as aggregates, cement and brick can help the UK’s construction industry to do more with less, and reduce waste, pollution and costs.
The centres are part of a £22.5m investment announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) today (Nov 10), which will transform how the UK manages the country’s waste and resource economy – more specifically, in the textiles, construction, chemicals and metals industries.
In total, five UKRI Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres will be established to meet these goals.
The Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy at Loughborough will aim to reduce the reliance on fossil resources by creating methods to recover and reuse olefins from domestic waste products and CO2 emissions.
Olefins are the raw materials for 70% of all organic chemical production, used to create synthetic fibres, plastics, solvents and other high value-specialities.
As well as developing new transformative technologies, the centre will work with businesses to improve all aspects of the manufacturing process to reduce their carbon footprint.
And look at ways to encourage members of the public to accept renewable technology and products whilst also working with policymakers to improve industry’s attitude towards the circular economy.
The route of the circular chemical economy. From plant to shops, homes and recycling and back to plant again. Credit: Loughborough University
Professor Jin Xuan, who will lead the centre, said: “According to a United Nations report, chemicals production and consumption needs to be doubled in the next 10 years in order to fulfil our basic needs.
“But that is simply not going to happen unless we adopt a circular economy approach.
“Our centre will kick start this timely transition of the UK’s £32 billion pounds chemical industry into a circular system.
“We believe such transition to a circular economy will not be possible unless a network of organisations are willing to work together as an ecosystem, including the stakeholders along the supply chain, but also the Government, third parties and the public.
“We are proud that we have such a strong and effective partnership at our centre.
“Working with this range of partners, we will be able to understand the key barriers and drivers to maximise circularity within the chemical industry.
“We are confident that our research will make a strong contribution to the UK’s Industrial Strategy on Clean Growth.”
The centre also involves Loughborough academics Dr Jonathan Wagner and Professor Eileen Yu from the Department of Chemical Engineering, as well as Dr Ben Buckley and Professor Upul Wijayantha from the Department of Chemistry.
Loughborough will also lead one of the three ‘challenges’ in the new Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials, based at UCL.
Loughborough University Principal Investigator and the centre’s Challenge 3 leader Professor Mohamed Osmani, of the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering (ABCE), will oversee the creation of a framework for proposing changes to mineral-based construction materials practices.
He said: “I am delighted to be working in partnership with 25 world-class investigators from engineering, natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities across five leading universities: UCL, Imperial College London and the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and Lancaster, as well as the British Geological Survey.
“The centre is also supported by a network of 42 industry partners from all sectors of the construction industry – clients, designers, contractors, suppliers, consultants – local and national government and NGOs and other academics; and 20 national and international circular economy experts as members of the Independent Advisory Board.”
Professor Steve Rothberg, Loughborough’s Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research), added: “Our success in securing these awards demonstrates the excellence and relevance of our research, supporting the UK economy while addressing our greatest global challenge.”
The centres are funded by the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund, and delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Innovate UK, with DEFRA and BEIS.