EPSRC announces new green engineering projects

Green engineering projects announced

Four new green engineering projects have been announced by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The EPSRC said that how to address the UK’s limited resources and high material dependency are pressing questions for the country and engineering researchers and scientists.

In June this year it brought together academics from a number of disciplines to take part in a collaborative, five-day event known as a ‘sandpit’.

They looked at these resource challenges and came up with some exciting, innovative, research projects that could develop long-term sustainable solutions.

“Finding answers to complex problems such as how to manage our resources efficiently and sustainably requires creative and considered thinking and a willingness to explore ideas with others,” said Professor David Delpy, EPSRC’s chief executive.

“That is exactly the sort of environment and ethos our engineering sandpits provide and promote. 

“The resulting research projects are both exciting and have great potential for long term benefit.”

The projects that came out of the event, 'MORE WITH LESS: Engineering solutions for resource efficiency', were awarded just over £5 million, and will be run from four universities Bath, Birmingham, Loughborough and Warwick, with academics from a total of twelve institutions.

The projects are:

- Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery (CLEVER) which will look at how materials and product service systems for portable electronic devices can be developed to optimise recovery and reuse of components.  

The project is driven by the need to address the negative global environmental consequences of the current “throw-away” approach to consumer electronics and their components.

These devices are replaced at a rapid rate, but recycling of components is still the exception.

Led by Dr Janet Scott, from the University of Bath – in collaboration with Loughborough University, Newcastle University, University of Surrey and the University of Oxford.

“The problem our ‘CLEVER’ consortium aims to tackle is a significant one in terms of resource efficiency and is symptomatic of some of the problems that rapid turnover in items such as consumer electronics bring,” said Dr Scott.

“If consumers wanted to keep the attractive parts of their devices, while getting “updates” for functional hardware inside, we would have a mechanism for closing the loop on the scarce and valuable metals that these contain.”

- Cleaning Land for Wealth (CL4W) which will investigate the use of a common class of plant to clean poisoned soils while at the same time producing perfectly sized and shaped nano sized platinum and arsenic nanoparticles for use in catalytic convertors, cancer treatments and a range of other applications.

Led by Professor Kerry Kirwan from WMG at the University of Warwick – in collaboration with Cranfield University, Newcastle University and the Universities of Edinburgh and Birmingham.

“The processes we are developing will not only remove poisons such as arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, we are also confident that we can develop suitable biology and biorefining processes (or biofactories as we are calling them) that can tailor the shapes and sizes of the metallic nanoparticles they will make,” said Professor Kirwan.

“This would give manufacturers of catalytic convertors, developers of cancer treatments and other applicable technologies exactly the right shape, size and functionality they need without subsequent refinement.”

- Efficient X-sector use of HeterogeneoUs MatErials in Manufacturing (EXHUME) will address the challenging task of recycling composite materials which are increasingly used in areas that involve fuel efficiency and the lightweighting of products.

The project will demonstrate vital re-manufacturing science and chemical/process engineering to the waste industry.

It will develop the data sets and exemplars of mixed composite processing and resource footprints that can be used to drive the future of scrap re-use across different industrial sectors.

Led by Dr Gary Leeke from the University of Birmingham – in collaboration with Cranfield University, the University of Manchester and the University of Exeter.

Dr Leeke said: “The increased use of composites, for example carbon fibre, automatically leads to large amounts of waste, which either goes to landfill or incineration.

“These have financial and environmental costs as well as preventing material re-use.

“Our research is exciting as it is expected to begin a step-change in resource efficiency.  

“The team will develop novel recycling processes and a systems approach to remanufacture composite scrap material for cross-sector applications in aerospace, automotive, marine and construction industries.”

- Creative outreach for resource efficiency (CORE): with the UK's rate of recycling of municipal waste still ranked only 11th in Europe and growing pressure to address materials' scarcity, there is strong evidence that there needs to be greater public engagement in Resource Efficiency.  

The project will support a creative outreach programme to increase user involvement and understanding of Resource Efficiency.

It will help the other EPSRC-supported projects that emerged from the sandpit and work with partner institutions to use exciting mechanisms such as pop-up labs, crowdsourcing, podcasts, social design and innovation, physical hands-on and fun demonstrations and schools events to encourage discussion and deliver impact with a range of audiences.

Led by Professor Jacqueline Glass from Loughborough University – in collaboration with Cranfield University and the Universities of Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Surrey and Warwick.  

“Our project is a unique and fascinating opportunity to build bridges between scientists, engineers and the public, communicating the results of the Sandpit projects and engaging real people in real conversations about the incredibly important topic of Resource Efficiency, said Professor Glass.

“Our team has devised some novel ideas for public engagement and we are looking forward to putting them into practice.”

A range of recent studies have highlighted that Resource Efficiency will play an important role in the future economic success of UK plc, e.g. BIS/Defra’s ‘Resource Security Action Plan: Making the most of valuable materials’.

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