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."
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