Loughborough to play pivotal role in Government plans to improve the sustainability of the UK chemical and construction industries

  • A new £4.3m centre to improve the sustainability of the UK’s chemical industry will be based at Loughborough
  • The university will also lead on a project to explore ways to reduce the waste, pollution and cost of construction materials such as cement and aggregates
  • Both projects are part of a £22.5m national Government initiative to improve the UK’s circular economy in the textiles, construction, chemicals and metals

Loughborough University will lead a new Government push to revolutionise the way resources are managed in the UK’s £32bn chemical industry to build a greener, more efficient economy.

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.


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 20/179

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2020 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.