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Environmental technology

Sustrum - making sustainable structural materials from waste

Newrail (Newcastle University), Bliby Plastics, CPP Industrial Packaging, EIA, Joltech, KCR Composite Mouldings, MKM Leisure

Each year, millions of tonnes of waste - some of it potentially useful- end up in UK landfill sites.

In an effort to divert some of this material away from landfill and provide a sustainable alternative to virgin commodities the TSB-funded SUSTRUM initiative was established to look at whether a variety of waste materials could be re-engineered into structurally useful products.

A pallet manufactured from polymer waste

A pallet manufactured from polymer waste

As the project was focused on the use of non-standard material feedstocks, material and process innovation was very much at its heart and the initiative’s own formal record of the specific innovations developed within SUSTRUM contained 29 separate entries by the end of the project.
Examples of the diverse range of innovations developed within the project include a novel means of manufacturing cellular materials, an alternative concept for the assembly of transportable buildings, a continuous process for the mixing and binding of shredded waste material to produce consolidated components, and a wide range of novel material formulations based on waste material feedstocks.

Of particular note is the project’s work with carpet waste. Each year, around 500,000 tonnes of carpet waste is buried in UK landfills, but by using waste carpet to build newt fence panels, the group believes that it could divert 1.5 million m2 of waste carpet from landfill each year.

Project Topless - flexible, low energy, light emitting polymers

Thorn Lighting, Cambridge Display Technology, Durham University

Artificial lighting consumes almost 20 per cent of all electrical power generated and is responsible for an estimated 2,000 million tonnes of annual CO2 emissions. Lighting technology developed by a consortium headed up by UK lighting firm Thorn Lighting could help dent these statistics.

Long viewed as a promising low-energy alternative to the incumbent technology polymer light-emitting structures-thin films of material that emit bright white light under the application of very low DC voltages (4VDC)-have been held back by concerns over the quality of the light they produce and manufacturing difficulties.

TOPLESS has driven developmentof commercial light-emmitting polymers

TOPLESS has driven developmentof commercial light-emmitting polymers

However, thanks to breakthroughs made by partners working on the UK TOPLESS project (thin organic polymeric light-emitting semiconductor surfaces) large-scale commercialisation of light-emitting polymers (LEPs) looks increasingly likely.

The project, which brought together Thorn, LEP pioneer Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) and Durham University, has addressed fundamental issues over performance and production.

The £3.3m, part public-funded project, enhanced the performance of light-emitting polymers (by developing single polymeric white light-emitting materials) while drawing on the solution processible characteristics of the materials involved to develop an efficient high-volume manufacturing process.

ASTEC - Automated Sensing Technologies for Coastal Monitoring

Swansea Metropolitan University, Wireless Fibre Systems, Valeport

As sea levels across the world continue to rise, coastal erosion is becoming a more common and destructive process and can have significant and costly effects.

With 50-70 per cent of the global human population living in coastal zones and rising sea levels caused by global warming speeding up beach erosion, researchers need a way to monitor what is happening beneath the surface of the sea.

Data for the understanding of this phenomenon has largely been obtained by observations and measurements of exposed coastal areas such as beaches to quantify the effects of coastal erosion.

While these studies have revealed lots of information, details of what was happening below the seas surface have not been measurable and, as a result, we have only a partial picture of coastal erosion.

The £611,000 TSB-funded ASTEC project, which concluded in March 2010, deployed a novel marine wireless sensor network on the seabed to enable gathering of data to quantify the effects of coastal erosion beneath the sea surface.

Based on a network of subsea sensors that are able to determine the amount of sediment settling on them using differential pressure sensors, the system is underpinned by an RF electromagnetic communications system.

The team overcame perceived limitations of RF underwater communications and developed a system that has distinct advantages over optical and acoustic technologies when operating in turbulent, aerated and dirty salt water.

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