£22.5 million funding announced for new circular economy research centres

The government today announced plans to invest £22.5 million in five new research centres, which will be used to develop better reuse and recycling techniques in textiles, electronics, metals, construction and chemicals.

Aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, preserve natural resources and provide new opportunities for UK industries, research will explore how the reuse of waste materials in the textiles, construction, chemicals, transport, electronics and metal industries can protect the environment and the economy.

The University of Exeter
The University of Exeter
The five new Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres will be located in London, Loughborough and Exeter, and are being funded by the government as part of UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities fund. The centres will also see an additional £11.2 million of funding and in-kind support from external partners, as well as support from host universities.

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."

This development follows on from the government’s announcement in July, which saw the release of £350 million to cut emissions in heavy industry and accelerate the UK’s economic recovery post-Covid19.

Led by University College London, the Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials will develop more efficient use and recovery of mineral materials such as construction stones, cement and brick. This project is set to reduce UK minerals extraction by more than half a million tonnes per day and stop the generation of 154 million tonnes of mineral waste each year.

To tackle the emissions from the UK textiles industry, the Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre, led by the Royal College of Art, will aim to lessen the environmental impact of clothing in the UK by using household waste and used fabrics to develop new textiles, instead of relying on imported materials. Emissions from the UK’s industry alone are almost as high as those from cars used for private trips, and it is estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.

Loughborough University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy will aim to reduce the fossil reliance of the UK’s £32 billion chemical industry, by exploring the recovery and reuse of olefins from end-of-life products and CO2 emissions. Olefins are found in 70 per cent of organically produced chemicals, and can be used to create synthetic fibres, plastics and detergents.

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre in Technology Metals, led by the University of Exeter, will explore how to create a circular economy for the technology metals such as colbale, rare earths and lithium, which can be used in clean technologies such as electric cars and wind turbines.

Led by Brunel University London, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals aims to achieve the full circularity of metals by 2050, delivering significant environmental benefits, with the extraction of only seven major metals accounts for 15 per cent of global energy demand and 12 per cent of global emissions. 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.

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Executive Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, 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 technologies and approaches that will boost the UK economy and benefit the environment."