£10m boost for advanced materials research

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Projects are underway in the UK to find safer, sustainable alternatives to rare, expensive, and difficult to source raw materials used by industry.

Funded with a £10.3m grant from EPSRC and £2.8m from industry, the universities of Bristol, Surrey, York and UCL are to lead projects to asses the viability of using different, replacement materials in the manufacturing supply chain, considering their properties, cost, performance, and scalability.

They will investigate how production processes or technology will need to adapt to using these newer materials. It is claimed that by the end of the study manufacturers will be able to adopt alternatives.

In a statement David Willetts, minister for universities and science said: ‘As one of the eight great technologies of the future, advanced materials will ensure safer and more sustainable development of resources to boost the capability of UK manufacturing.

‘This investment in research will help keep the UK ahead in the global race for exciting manufacturing innovations.’

UCL will lead a project looking at alternatives for transparent conducting oxide materials used in window coatings, solar power panels, phones and computers, from nanoparticle dispersions, inks and thin films. Researchers will replace tin, which is expensive and indium, which is scarce, with common elements like titanium, aluminium and zinc.

In Bristol, researchers will develop new active materials for photovoltaic solar cells based on abundant and low cost elements. The research aims at replacing key elements such as gallium, indium, cadmium and tellurium, while implementing processes compatible with large-scale manufacturing.

Surrey researchers will look at the synthesis and processing of alternative thermoelectric and piezoelectric materials used in sensors, actuators and energy harvesters; whilst at York, research will investigate waste biomass and waste CO2 to replace petrochemical feedstocks in the manufacture of polymers.

David Delpy, chief executive, EPSRC said:  ‘Through the development and deployment of improved materials, processes and products that will come from this research, UK industries will be able to create wealth and new jobs, whilst at the same time tackling the societal and environmental challenges that resulted from the use of the original materials which were often rare and difficult to refine.’