£22.5 million funding for circular economy research centres

UK industry is set to benefit from £22.5 million Government funding to reduce waste and boost recycling in textiles, electronics, metals, construction and chemicals.

Five state-of-the-art research centres in London, Loughborough and Exeter will explore how the reuse of waste materials in the textiles, construction, chemicals, transport, electronics and metal industries can protect the environment and boost the economy.

Emissions from the UK’s textiles industry alone are almost as high as those from cars used for private trips, and it is estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.

The better reuse and recycling techniques developed by these new centres – helping to expand the circular economy – will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, preserve natural resources and provide new opportunities for UK industries, the government says.

These new research centres will play a vital part in creating a cleaner and more sustainable economy, and help us to better protect the environment for the next generation

Research has shown that expanding the circular economy could create up to 500,000 gross jobs by 2030.

 Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said: “We want to further the UK’s status as a world-leader in finding green solutions to industrial challenges, and projects like these are excellent examples of placing manufacturers at the forefront of the green industrial revolution.

“I am pleased to support these new cutting-edge research centres that will transform the way industry reuses and recycles materials – another great step forward as we build back greener from coronavirus and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”

Circular economy

One of the five new centres, the Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials, led by University College London, will develop more efficient use and recovery of mineral materials such as construction stones, cement and brick.

This project will aim to reduce UK minerals extraction by more than half a million tonnes per day and stop the generation of 154 million tonnes of mineral waste each year, enough to fill 30,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

To tackle the emissions from the UK’s textiles industry, one of the five new centres, the Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre, led by the Royal College of Art, aims to lessen the environmental impact of clothing in the UK by using household waste and used fabrics to develop new textiles instead of relying on imported materials.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Creating a more circular economy for our waste and resources lies at the heart of this government’s transformative agenda for the environment, and we are committed to going further and faster to reduce, reuse and recycle more of our resources – with strong measures to enable this coming forward in our landmark Environment Bill.

“These new research centres will play a vital part in creating a cleaner and more sustainable economy, and help us to better protect the environment for the next generation.”

Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres are funded by the UK Government as part of UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities fund. In addition to the UKRI Government investment, £11.2 million of funding and in-kind support is being provided by external partners, as well as support from host universities.

Today’s funding follows on from July’s announcement of £350 million to cut emissions in heavy industry and accelerate the UK’s economic recovery.

Textiles Circularity Centre 

The Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre, led by the Royal College of Art, aims to reduce our reliance on imported and environmentally and ethically impactful clothing materials and develop new ‘designed and made in the UK’ industries. They will lead research to turn post-consumer textiles, crop residues and household waste into renewable materials for use in textiles, developing new UK-based supply chains from waste management and farming through to textile production and design, and consumer experience.

Mineral-based Construction Materials

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials (ICEC-MCM), led by UCL, will explore how better design and manufacturing of products and structures made from mineral materials such as aggregates, cement and brick can help the UK’s construction industry to do more with less, and reduce waste, pollution and costs. For example, what does industry need to know about waste products such as excavation clay and metallurgical waste, to substitute them for mined and quarried materials used in construction products? How can the components of buildings that have been demolished be reused to minimise costs and environmental impacts?

Circular Chemical Economy

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy, led by Loughborough University, aims to reduce the fossil reliance of the UK’s £32 billion chemical industry by creating and implementing methods to recover and reuse olefins from end-of-life products and CO2 emissions. Olefins are the raw materials for 70 per cent of all organic chemical production, used to create synthetic fibres, plastics and detergents for example. As well as developing new transformative technologies, the centre will work with industry, consumers and other stakeholders to develop sector-wide solutions to reduce the industry’s environmental impact and increase its productivity.

Technology Metals

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre in Technology Metals, led by the University of Exeter, will explore how to create a circular economy for the technology metals such as cobalt, rare earths and lithium that are essential in all clean and digital technologies including electric cars and wind turbines. The centre aims to develop a new cycle, right from the first stages of extraction, to enable secure and environmentally-acceptable circulation of these crucial materials within the UK economy.

Circular Metals

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals, led by Brunel University London, aims to make the UK the first country to fully circulate metals by 2050, which would deliver huge environmental benefits with the extraction of just seven major metals accounting for 15 per cent of global energy demand and 12 per cent of global emissions. While the UK imports almost all metals, the centre will look at how metals can be recycled for use in sectors such as aerospace, automotive and electronics, which could contribute more than £100 billion to the UK economy over the next decade.

Executive Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said: “The move to a circular economy, where we use less resources and reuse more materials, is central to the UK’s green industrial revolution and our commitment to achieving a net zero economy by 2050.

“By bringing together a wide range of academic disciplines with industry partners the centres will catalyse innovative new technologies and approaches that will boost the UK economy and benefit the environment.”

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