The University of Liverpool is to establish a state of the art Microbiorefinery (MBR) to develop the next generation of sustainable chemicals from biomass.
Fossil fuel sources currently provide the basis for the majority of chemicals used by industry, but decreasing supplies and environmental considerations mean there is a growing requirement for renewable and sustainable sources for raw materials.
The new facility, in collaboration with Unilever, will provide unique laboratory facilities and expertise to identify biopolymers derived from the by-products of carbohydrates, sugar and other commodity production.
It will also develop biorefinery technologies and processes to make it quicker and cheaper to identify valuable new chemicals and formulations that have commercial application.
Dr Jose A.Lopez-Sanchez, Director of the MBR, said: "This new facility will give a huge boost to our quest to find new bio-derived organic and sustainable chemicals.
"It will combine high-throughput synthesis, reactivity and characterization of bio-derived products and catalysts alike by a wide range of state of the art analytic and spectroscopic techniques to enable new discoveries and elucidation of new activity-structure relationships in catalysis for biorenewable chemicals.
"The MBR brings together academic and industrial expertise to bridge the gaps between identifying new sustainable chemicals in the laboratory, testing and manufacturing them in small quantities and ultimately seeing them used by industry."
Dr Neil Parry, Unilever Biotechnology Research Director said: "We are delighted to be partnering with the University of Liverpool on this significant project which could ultimately pave the way for household products of the future that are also kinder on the environment."
The MBR will be available for large industry, researchers or start-up companies to use on an open access basis. The investment in new laboratory space at the University will enable co-location of Unilever research staff on campus.
The MBR will also support a £1.8 million research project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), to develop platform chemicals from the sugars, fats, oils and carbohydrates produced by biomass including food supply chain wastes and forestry wastes.
Funding for the MBR comes from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Unilever and the University of Liverpool with in-kind support from AB Sugar.
Construction work on the MBR will be completed by spring 2014.