Four new engineering projects that will help the UK to develop new lightweight materials, design products to have a longer life and be more easily recyclable, and clean contaminated land to reclaim valuable metals, were announced today by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
How to address the UK's limited resources and high material dependency are pressing questions for the country and engineering researchers and scientists.
In July 2012 EPSRC brought together academics from a number of disciplines to take part in a collaborative, five-day event known as a 'sandpit'. They looked at these resource challenges and came up with some exciting, innovative, research projects that could develop long-term sustainable solutions.
Professor David Delpy, EPSRC's Chief Executive said: "Finding answers to complex problems such as how to manage our resources efficiently and sustainably requires creative and considered thinking and a willingness to explore ideas with others. That is exactly the sort of environment and ethos our engineering sandpits provide and promote. The resulting research projects are both exciting and have great potential for long term benefit."
The projects that came out of the event, MORE WITH LESS: Engineering solutions for resource efficiency', were awarded just over £5 million, will be run from four universities Bath, Birmingham, Loughborough and Warwick and involve academics from a total of twelve institutions.
The projects are:
CLEVER - Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery - which will look at how materials and product service systems for portable electronic devices can be developed to optimise recovery and reuse of components. It is driven by the need to address the negative global environmental consequences of the current "throw-away" approach to consumer electronics and their components. These devices are replaced at a rapid rate, but recycling of components is still the exception.
Led by Dr Janet Scott, from the University of Bath - in collaboration with Loughborough University, Newcastle University, University of Surrey and the University of Oxford.
Dr Scott commented: "The problem our 'CLEVER' consortium aims to tackle is a significant one in terms of resource efficiency and is symptomatic of some of the problems that rapid turnover in items such as consumer electronics bring - if consumers wanted to keep the attractive parts of their devices, while getting "updates" for functional hardware inside, we would have a mechanism for closing the loop on the scarce and valuable metals that these contain".
Value of grant: £1.2 million
Cleaning Land for Wealth (CL4W) which will investigate the use of a common class of plant to clean poisoned soils while at the same time producing perfectly sized and shaped nano sized platinum and arsenic nanoparticles for use in catalytic convertors, cancer treatments and a range of other applications.
Led by Professor Kerry Kirwan from WMG at the University of Warwick - in collaboration with Cranfield University, Newcastle University and the Universities of Edinburgh and Birmingham.
"The processes we are developing will not only remove poisons such as arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, we are also confident that we can develop suitable biology and biorefining processes (or biofactories as we are calling them) that can tailor the shapes and sizes of the metallic nanoparticles they will make. This would give manufacturers of catalytic convertors, developers of cancer treatments and other applicable technologies exactly the right shape, size and functionality they need without subsequent refinement."
Value of grant: £3.1 million
EXHUME - Efficient X-sector use of HeterogeneoUs MatErials in Manufacturing will address the challenging task of recycling composite materials which are increasingly used in areas that involve fuel efficiency and the lightweighting of products. The project will demonstrate vital re-manufacturing science and chemical/process engineering to the waste industry. It will develop the data sets and exemplars of mixed composite processing and resource footprints that can be used to drive the future of scrap re-use across different industrial sectors.
Led by Dr Gary Leeke from the University of Birmingham - in collaboration with Cranfield University, the University of Manchester and the University of Exeter.
Dr Leeke said: "The increased use of composites, for example carbon fibre, automatically leads to large amounts of waste, which either goes to landfill or incineration. These have financial and environmental costs as well as preventing material re-use. Our research is exciting as it is expected to begin a step-change in resource efficiency. The team will develop novel recycling processes and a systems approach to remanufacture composite scrap material for cross-sector applications in aerospace, automotive, marine and construction industries".
Value of grant: £1.4 million
CORE (Creative Outreach for Resource Efficiency), with the UK's rate of recycling of municipal waste still ranked only 11th in Europe and growing pressure to address materials' scarcity, there is strong evidence that there needs to be greater public engagement in Resource Efficiency. The project will support a creative outreach programme to increase user involvement and understanding of Resource Efficiency. It will help the other EPSRC-supported projects that emerged from the sandpit and work with partner institutions to use exciting mechanisms such as pop-up labs, crowdsourcing, podcasts, social design and innovation, physical hands-on and fun demonstrations and schools events to encourage discussion and deliver impact with a range of audiences.
Led by Professor Jacqueline Glass from Loughborough University - in collaboration with Cranfield University and the Universities of Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Surrey and Warwick.
Professor Glass explained that: "Our project is a unique and fascinating opportunity to build bridges between scientists, engineers and the public, communicating the results of the Sandpit projects and engaging real people in real conversations about the incredibly important topic of Resource Efficiency. Our team has devised some novel ideas for public engagement and we are looking forward to putting them into practice."
Value of grant: £299,000
A range of recent studies have highlighted that Resource Efficiency will play an important role in the future economic success of UK plc, e.g. BIS/Defra's 'Resource Security Action Plan: Making the most of valuable materials'.
Notes to Editors:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.
EPSRC is proud to be supporting the inaugural Global Grand Challenges Summit in London, 12-13 March 2013. The event is being organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering in collaboration with EPSRC and other partners.
A Sandpit Event
A sandpit is an intensive, interactive and free-thinking environment, where a diverse group of participants from a range of disciplines and backgrounds get together for five days - away from their everyday worlds - to immerse themselves in collaborative thinking to construct innovative approaches to the sandpit topic.
As the sandpit progresses, participants build up thoughts on how the identified 'challenges' may be addressed and develop their innovative ideas and activities into research projects. Projects must contain genuinely novel and speculative investigations that address new approaches to resource efficiency.
The sandpit examined the following themes:
- Dematerialisation (e.g. lightweighting, novel materials functionality, novel materials from waste products, materials security and efficiency)
- Design for resource sustainability (e.g. energy, water and materials efficiency, considerations for engineering processes, whole systems and resource flow modelling)
- Reuseability at any scale (closed and open loop recycling, remanufacturing, extended product life)
The team posed themselves these questions:
- How can we rethink and evidence our use of resources to support resource efficient design?
- Which engineering and manufacturing approaches will drive a radical step change in resource efficiency? What fundamental changes in engineering or scientific thinking are required? How can these be demonstrated?
- What materials are best suited for a 'circular economy' and how can they be used efficiently in engineered products that create sustained value?
- How should we adapt our extraction, use and reuse of resources for the changing demographics of population growth and urbanisation?