Particle technology

Growth, formation, processing, measurement, characterisation and multi-scale modelling of dry or wet particulate systems and fluid-particle systems. This research area includes the fundamental understanding of powder flow and particle/particle interaction. There is a continuum of knowledge from design through synthesis to scale-up and formulation; a key aim is to form predictive links between physical properties and particle behaviour during process operations.

We will reduce this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio over the course of the Delivery Plan period - a decision reflecting the significant increase in research activity as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio between 2012 and 2016, influenced by an alignment to national initiatives such as the National Formulation Centre. This increase was coupled with a shift in the type of research supported by EPSRC towards formulation, rather than fundamental particle technology research.

There is currently a high volume of activity in the Particle Technology area (primarily supported through EPSRC's Manufacturing the Future Theme) that is strongly linked to industry. Many of the recent strategic investments have inflated and shifted the balance of the portfolio towards relatively high Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) relevant to UK manufacturing.

Although there is potential to identify a number of new research challenges from the current portfolio, it is essential to focus on fundamental engineering research to ensure the long-term health of the area and to enable future impacts. Examples of these longer-term challenges may include the fundamental understanding of different, novel particulate systems and products, in relation to particle behaviour and process models (Evidence source 1). By the end of the Delivery Plan, EPSRC will work with the community to encourage focused grant applications that address fundamental challenges, so that the portfolio of research in this area will be appropriately balanced.

To ensure a balanced portfolio, we have considered this strategy alongside the broader chemical engineering portfolio (including the Complex Fluids and Rheology and Process Systems: Components and Integration research areas). Throughout the Delivery Plan period, we will work with the community to focus on collaboration across the chemistry and chemical engineering interface, identifying opportunities for multidisciplinary research that delivers against the Prosperity Outcomes and Ambitions in our Delivery Plan. Opportunities may exist to link to the Engineering Grand Challenge addressing Engineering across Length Scales, from Atoms to Applications.

The growing number of chemical engineering undergraduates, emanating from strong industrial demand, means student training remains highly relevant in this research area and across the wider chemical engineering portfolio (Evidence source 2). We will work with the chemical engineering community to explore and address any concerns over academic leadership and the balance of support across all career levels.

Highlights:

This research area increased significantly as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio over the last Delivery Plan period, due to the recent investment in the Manufacturing the Future and the Physical Sciences Themes' call in Future Formulation of Complex Products; five of the seven funded grants contain Particle Technology research (Evidence source 3). These investments reflect the current importance of formulation science to industry and complement initiatives such as the National Formulation Centre, the Advanced Digital Design of Pharmaceutical Therapeutics Centre and the Innovate UK High Value Manufacturing strategy (Evidence source 4,5). These centres will enable UK businesses to collaborate with supply chain partners and academia to develop, prove, prototype and scale-up the next generation of formulated products. These innovation drivers have pushed particle technology research towards higher-TRL formulation-related research. There is also a need to refocus the area towards long-term fundamental engineering research challenges.

Particle Technology is seen as a mature subject area that is largely supported by industry. Many Small and Medium-Size Enterprises (SMEs) engaged in the formulation supply chain have their origins in spinouts from UK universities; this means they are supported by world-class expertise in particle design and particle processing (Evidence source 5).

Research in particle technology is core to many industrial processes and is dominated by industrial drivers (Evidence source 4,5). This area contributes to a number of leading UK industrial sectors including manufacturing, formulation, healthcare and pharmaceuticals (Evidence source 6) - a fact highlighted by the presence of a wide range of industrial partners on EPSRC investments (Evidence source 3).

Postgraduate training in this area has grown through the formation of a number of interlinked Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), which are strongly linked to industry. Training provisions through the Industrial Collaborative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE) and the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) schemes also benefit this area. These investments - concentrated in particular centres of excellence, with a small number distributed throughout the UK, and which maintained their number over the last Delivery Plan - broadly align with the growing industrial demand and increasing relevance of this research area. (Evidence source 2,3)

This area will draw on and contribute to other research areas and disciplines, such as Process Systems: Components and Integration, Complex Fluids and Rheology, Fluid Dynamics and Aerodynamics, and Microsystems. Research in this area strongly links to the Manufacturing the Future Challenge Theme.

This area has the potential to significantly contribute to the Productive Nation Outcome and will align to the Healthy Nation Outcome. It is particularly relevant to the following Ambitions:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

This research area will play a critical role through fundamental understanding and manufacturing/scale-up of new particulate systems and products.

P2: Ensure affordable solutions for national needs

Research in this area has the potential to support the creation and manufacturing/scale-up of affordable medicines.

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

This research area will play a critical role through new approaches for the targeting, functionalisation, encapsulation and physical or chemical release of drugs.

  1. European Powder Metallurgy Association (EPMA), Vision 2025: Future Developments for the EU Powder Metallurgy Industry, (2015).
  2. ABPI, Bridging the Skills Gap in the Biopharmaceutical Industry (PDF), (2015).
  3. EPSRC portfolio data: size, investments, student numbers.
  4. Innovate UK, A Strategy for Innovation in the UK Chemistry-using Industries (PDF), (2013).
  5. Innovate UK, Realising the Potential for Formulation in the UK (PDF), (2013).
  6. EPSRC, The Importance of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research to Health and Life Sciences (PDF) ('the Maxwell review'), (2014).

Other sources:

  • Community engagement with stakeholders and researchers.
  • Learned Society Balancing Capability Workshop, (February 2016).
  • Chemical Engineering Heads of Department meeting, (July 2016).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Reduce

We aim to reduce this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in particle technology (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Ruqaiyah Patel
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444029