West Midlands SMEs offered support to innovate in raw and waste materials

Businesses across the region are being invited to take part in a successful collaborative research and development programme to improve their use of raw and waste materials.

The ARLI (Alternative Raw Materials with Low Impact) programme, run by the University of Birmingham, aims to help SMEs develop innovative cost-effective products and processes, providing energy-efficiency gains and gaining added value from the use of raw and waste materials.

The programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and based in the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham. It was initially rolled out within the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. After securing a further £3.5M of ERDF funding the programme will now be extended across the Black Country and Coventry and Warwickshire LEPs for 3 years until June 2023.

Through ARLI support, businesses have the opportunity to collaborate, at no cost to them, with an experienced team of academics and industry experts to improve their research and development and identify new market opportunities.

We have seen how this engagement can spur growth in those businesses while at the same time moving industry towards a more sustainable economy

Since its launch in 2017  the ARLI programme has offered advice and support to more than 90 businesses, helping them develop innovative new products or processes through the use of waste materials as well as reducing carbon footprints

ARLI has engaged with an extremely diverse range of projects centred on sustainability and alternative materials – these include processing bicycle tyres into products like roof tiles; reinforcing concrete with carpet fibres and testing for mechanical performance and durability; investigating the sustainability of alternative textile materials for bags and backpacks and testing the biodegradability and solubility of alternative polymers.

In particular, the ARLI team work with SMEs to:

  • Reduced raw material use, improve resource efficiency and understand the benefits of Circular Economy;
  • Reuse waste streams by developing innovative new materials and products;
  • Substitute harmful or non-biodegradable materials with natural, eco-friendly materials;
  • Enhance sustainability within their supply chain;
  • Explore innovative engineering solutions including infrastructure;
  • Develop alternative materials for use in building systems, construction and off-site manufacturing;
  • Understand Life Cycle and Whole Life Costing and provide Carbon analysis of materials and processes;
  • Unlock new opportunities and create jobs.

Over the next two years, through ARLI support it is estimated that businesses will generate an additional £15.5 million of GVA per annum.

Project Director, Professor Ian Jefferson said: “We are delighted to have been able to continue working with SMEs during the pandemic lockdown, and helping them prepare for the future by carrying out desk based research and feasibility studies. We believe that these are the businesses that will succeed, by taking advantage of their downtime to re-appraise and develop their ideas”

ARLI’s Business Engagement Manager Jon Roberts says: “We will be helping businesses in the region to develop sustainable alternative raw materials and low impact services. ARLI provides practical sustainability advice offering R&D and testing facilities to SMEs to help solve the problems that are stopping them from succeeding. We have seen how this engagement can spur growth in those businesses while at the same time moving industry towards a more sustainable economy.”

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