Manchester in consortium to ensure UK is a leader in sustainable materials manufacture

The University of Manchester is contributing to a newly announced national consortium to help catalyse engagement with the foundation industries – vital for the UK’s manufacturing and construction sectors – and to help them develop a national strategy to improve sustainability.

The announcement follows the award of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to establish a Network+ to underpin the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The foundation industries – which span the glass, ceramics, metals, paper, cement and bulk chemicals sectors – are worth £52 billion to the UK’s economy, produce 28 million tonnes of materials per year and accounts for 10 per cent of the UK’s total CO₂ emissions.

In line with the Climate Change Act (2008), there is a need to reduce carbon emissions to 80 per cent below the levels that were seen in 1990 by 2050 – while the stress on global supply chains in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis has further demonstrated the importance of re-use and recycling in the manufacturing sector.

It is paramount therefore, for the UK’s foundation industries to innovate in order to remain internationally competitive.

The Network+ in Transforming the Foundation Industries consortium – which is led by the University of Sheffield, in collaboration with the Universities of Leeds, Swansea and Manchester – will coordinate a unified UK-wide approach to tackle these challenges by bringing together expertise and best practice in the fields of materials, engineering, bulk chemicals, manufacturing, physical sciences, informatics, economics, circular economy and the arts and humanities.

Professor Bill Sampson of the Department of Materials at The University of Manchester, said: “The Network+ will catalyse engagement not just between academics and industry, but crucially it provides a platform for that engagement to span the sectors of the foundation industries, building a community to meet the challenges of truly sustainable high volume materials manufacture.”

Furthermore, the Network+ will underpin the ISCF Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge to establish a unified identity, a community focused on interdisciplinary science and promote cross-sectoral solutions

The Network+ will grow by catalysing interactions across academic, industrial, regulatory and policymaking stakeholders to co-create novel solutions that transform and reinvigorate these sectors. In addition to workshops, knowledge transfer, outreach and dissemination, the network will test concepts and guide the development of innovative outcomes by issuing calls for projects totalling £1.4 million to the wider academic community.

Professor Ian Reaney from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Director of the Network+, said: “An economy is only as sustainable as the materials it is built on. The environmental, social and economic impact of industrial processing and manufacturing can be substantial, and yet positive changes to these practices can be simple and effective if applied across a sector. Our goal with the Network+ in Transforming the Foundation Industries is to help the UK stay at the forefront of sustainable manufacturing.”

Chris McDonald, CEO of the Materials Processing Institute and Chair of the Network+ Independent Advisory Panel, commented: “As chair of the Independent Advisory Panel for the Network+ in Transforming the Foundation Industries, I am keen to work alongside the management team to help create a sense of identity and community in the foundation industries to promote our mutual goal of achieving sustainable long-term manufacturing in the United Kingdom.”

Professor Susan Bernal Lopez of the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Leeds, and Deputy Director of the Network+, added: “Times of crisis, while deeply unsettling, also open the opportunity to reflect and identify strategies to enable our industries and society to do better, and to be better. Foundation industries have historically played a key role underpinning every aspect of our daily lives, while constantly adjusting to the changes of time and needs, driving unique innovation.

“This Network + has the ambitious goal to bring together multidisciplinary stakeholders to identify holistic pathways enabling transformation of these industries in response to the unique challenges of our time.”