Loughborough University will lead a new Government initiative to revolutionise resource management in the UK’s £32 billion chemical industry, building a greener and more efficient economy.

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy – based in the University’s Department of Chemical Engineering – will involve six other universities – Cardiff, Heriot-Watt, Imperial College London, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield.

It will also include more than 20 industrial and international partners, including multinationals – such as ExxonMobil, Shell and Unilever – as well as SMEs and national and local initiatives, including the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

The Centre – one of five – is part of a £22.5 million investment announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) which will transform how the UK manages the country’s waste and resource economy across the textiles, construction, chemicals and metals industries.

Reducing our reliance on fossil resources

The Loughborough Centre will develop transformative technologies to reduce our reliance on fossil resources by creating methods to recover and reuse olefins – ingredients used in plastic production – from domestic waste products and CO2 emissions.

The Centre will also work with industry to improve all aspects of the manufacturing process to reduce its carbon footprint.

In addition, it will explore ways to encourage public acceptance of renewable technologies whilst working with policymakers to enhance industry attitudes towards the circular economy.

Professor Jin Xuan who will lead the Centre said: “According to the UN, in order to fulfil our basic needs, chemical production needs to double over the next 10 years – but that is simply not going to happen unless we adopt a new approach.

“Our Centre will kickstart this timely transition by the UK’s chemical industry into a circular system.

“We are proud that our Centre is a strong and effective academic-industry partnership. Together, we will develop an understanding of the key barriers and drivers to maximising circularity within the chemical industry – and are confident that our research will make a strong contribution to the UK’s Industrial Strategy on Clean Growth.”

Circular construction

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.

This Centre will explore how better design and manufacturing of products made from mineral materials (including aggregates, cement and bricks) can help the UK’s construction industry to do more with less – reducing waste, pollution and costs.

It will draw on expertise from five other leading universities – UCL, Imperial College London and the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and Lancaster – and the British Geological Survey. In addition, it will be 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 as well as other academics. Its Independent Advisory Board will comprise 20 national and international circular economy experts.

Professor Steve Rothberg, Loughborough’s Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research), said:

“Our success in securing these awards demonstrates the excellence and relevance of our research, supporting the UK economy while addressing our greatest global challenges.”