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Circular economy centres to drive UK to a sustainable future

Five new centres were announced today as part of a £22.5 million government investment. They will explore how reusing waste materials in the textiles, construction, chemical and metal industries could deliver huge environmental benefits and boost the UK economy.

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) interdisciplinary circular economy centres will help to move the UK towards a circular economy. The aim is to:

  • use fewer resources
  • reuse and recover products and materials instead of disposing of them after use.

Moving to a circular economy will provide significant benefits by:

  • reducing waste
  • lowering environmental impact of production and consumption in the UK and abroad
  • creating opportunities for new UK industries.

Reducing waste

In total, five new centres will receive funding, two of which are highlighted below.

Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre

Led by the Royal College of Art, this centre aims to lessen the environmental impact of clothing in the UK. It will use household waste and used textiles to develop new textiles instead of relying on imported materials.

The emission levels caused by the UK’s textiles industry are almost as high as the total CO2 emitted through people using cars for private trips.

Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials

Led by University College London, this centre aims to develop systems for more efficient use and recovery of mineral resources.

This will reduce UK construction minerals extraction by more than half a million tonnes per day, and reduce the generation of 154 million tonnes of mineral waste each year.

Finding green solutions

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.

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.

These new research centres will play a vital part in creating a cleaner and more sustainable waste sector, thus helping us to better protect the environment and leave it in better shape for the next generation.

About the five centres

The interdisciplinary circular economy centres are funded by UKRI through its Strategic Priorities fund. Between partners and in-kind support, the centres will receive a further £11.2 million of funding.

The Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre

Led by the Royal College of Art, this centre aims to reduce our reliance on imported and environmentally and ethically impactful clothing materials. It will develop new ‘designed and made in the UK’ industries.

The centre will lead research to turn post-consumer textiles, crop residues and household waste into renewable materials for use in textiles. By doing this, they will develop new UK-based supply chains from waste management and farming through to textile production and design.

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials (ICEC-MCM)

Led by UCL, this centre 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
  • reduce waste
  • lessen pollution
  • lower costs.

For example:

  • 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?
  • advising how the components of buildings that have been demolished can be reused to minimise costs and environmental impacts?

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy

Led by Loughborough University, this centre 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% of all organic chemical production, used to create products such as:

  • synthetic fibres
  • plastics
  • detergents.

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.

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre in Technology Metals

Led by the University of Exeter, this centre will explore how to create a circular economy for the technology metals such as:

  • cobalt
  • rare earths
  • lithium.

These 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.

The Interdisciplinary Centre for CircularMetal

led by Brunel University London, this centre aims to make the UK the first country to fully circulate metals by 2050. This would deliver huge environmental benefits, with the extraction of just seven major metals currently accounting for 15% of global energy demand and 12% 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.

As well as catalysing scientific and technological advances, they will generate the environmental, social and economic understanding required to support a successful transition to a circular economy.

Innovative new approaches

EPSRC Executive Chair, 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 approaches and technologies that will boost the UK economy and benefit the environment.

Further information

The centres form part of the £30 million UKRI Interdisciplinary Circular Economy programme, funded by the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund, and delivered by the:

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Innovate UK
  • DEFRA.

As well as the interdisciplinary centres, which have been allocated £4.5 million in UKRI funding each, UKRI will provide £2.5 million of funding to enable small and medium enterprise involvement with centre. They will support an integration hub to provide national leadership and coordination, driving knowledge exchange and whole-systems learning.

The Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) is one of the UK’s largest, publicly funded, programmes of work to spearhead multi and inter disciplinary research and innovation.

Established in 2018 and led by UKRI, the SPF aims to:

  • drive an increase in high quality multi and interdisciplinary research and innovation
  • ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research and innovation priorities and opportunities
  • ensure the system responds to strategic priorities and opportunities.