Public Release: 

Safer and more sustainable materials for manufacturing

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Manufacturing industries rely on a supply of raw materials; increasingly these are rare, expensive, difficult to source, and subject to regulation. A £10.3 million grant, awarded to researchers today by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will be used to find safer, more sustainable alternatives. The energy, automotive, aerospace, and construction industries, amongst others, will benefit from this investment. Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said: "As one of the eight great technologies of the future, Advanced Materials will ensure safer and more sustainable development of resources to boost the capability of UK manufacturing. This investment in research will help keep the UK ahead in the global race for exciting manufacturing innovations." The four successful winning research projects are led by UCL (University College London), the University of Bristol, the University of Surrey, and the University of York, with industry partners adding a further £2.8 million of investment. The research teams will assess the viability of using different, replacement materials in the manufacturing supply chain, considering their properties, cost, performance, and scalability. They will investigate how production processes or technology will need to adapt to using these newer materials. By the end of the study the research will enable manufacturers to adopt alternatives.

The projects are:

  • Examining alternatives for transparent conducting oxide materials, used in window coatings, solar power panels, phones and computers, from nanoparticle dispersions, inks and thin films. Researchers will replace tin, which is expensive and indium, which is scarce, with common elements like titanium, aluminium and zinc. Led by UCL.

  • Developing new active materials for photovoltaic solar cells based on abundant and low cost elements. The research aims at replacing key elements such as gallium, indium, cadmium and tellurium, while implementing processes compatible with large-scale manufacturing. Led by the University of Bristol.

  • Synthesising and processing alternative thermoelectric and piezoelectric materials used in functional devices including sensors, actuators and energy harvesters. Sensors and actuators are used in motion detectors, fuel injectors, engine sensors and medical diagnostic tools. The UK sensors market is worth an estimated £3 billion. Led by the University of Surrey.

  • Investigating waste biomass and waste CO2 to replace petrochemical feedstocks in the manufacture of polymers. For example, food waste or wood shavings could be turned into home insulation or into engineering materials for house construction. The research will aim to develop processes which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent, at no extra cost to production. Led by the University of York.

David Delpy, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), said: "Through the development and deployment of improved materials, processes and products that will come from this research, UK industries will be able to create wealth and new jobs, whilst at the same time tackling the societal and environmental challenges that resulted from the use of the original materials which were often rare and difficult to refine."


Notes to editors:

Sustainable Manufacturing of Transparent Conducting Oxide (TCO) Inks and Thin Films - £2.3 million

Universities UCL, Loughborough University

Led by Principal Investigator Professor Claire Carmalt, UCL

Project Partners Pilkington Technology Management Ltd, AkzoNobel UK, Xaar Plc, Teer Coatings Ltd, Malvern Instruments Ltd, Supersolar Hub, UK Innovation Forum, PlasmaQuest Ltd, Qioptiq Ltd, The Manufacturing Technology Centre, DuPont Teijin Films UK Ltd, Materials KTN, IMRC:A Centre for Innovative Manufacture, Diamond Coatings Ltd, CIKC, Sun Chemical Corporation

Photovoltaic Technology based on Earth Abundant Materials - PVTEAM - £2 million

Universities University of Bristol, University of Bath, Northumbria University, Swansea University, Loughborough University

Led by Principal Investigator Professor David Fermin, University of Bristol Project Partners SPECIFIC, (Innovation and Knowledge Centre), Tata Steel, Johnson Matthey, NSG Holding (Europe) Ltd

Manufacture of Safe and Sustainable Volatile Element functional materials - MASSIVE Materials - £3 million

Universities University of Surrey, Cranfield University, University of Manchester, Queen Mary, University of London,

Led by Principal Investigator Professor Robert Dorey, University of Surrey

Project Partners European Thermodynamics Ltd, Johnson Matthey, National Physical Laboratory NPL, Excelitas Technologies UK Ltd, Syfer Technology Ltd, Kennametal Sintec Keramik UK Ltd, Intrinsiq Materials Limited, CeramTec UK Ltd, M&I Materials Ltd, Meggitt PLC, Xaar Plc. PI Ceramic, Morgan Advanced Materials

Sustainable polymers - £3 million

Universities University of York, Imperial College London, Newcastle University

Led by Principal Investigator Professor James Clark, University of York

Project Partners Econic Technologies Ltd, Lotte Chemical UK Ltd, Plaxica Ltd, Bayer AG

For media enquiries and images: please contact The EPSRC Press Office

01793 444 404

Image1: A potential application of a transparent conducting oxide thin-film in a micro electrode array used to analyse living cells. Credit: Loughborough University

Image 2: A thin-film photovoltaic solar module. Credit: Loughborough University

Image 3: From waste to wealth using green chemistry. Credit: University of York

Academic contacts:

Professor Claire Carmalt, Head of Inorganic & Materials Chemistry Section, UCL

David Fermin, Professor of Electrochemistry, University of Bristol

Professor Robert Dorey, Chair in Nanomaterials, University of Surrey

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.

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