Researchers set sights on resource efficiency ‘game changers’

A cluster of transformational engineering projects are set to advance material optimisation through lightweighting, durability and recyclability in the drive for greater resource efficiency.

Led by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the four initiatives launched today will target R&D in new lightweight materials, while also seeking to build better durability and recyclability into product design.

Sophisticated techniques to clean up contaminated land will also be explored under the research programme to investigate the potential for reclaiming valuable metals.

One of the projects, CLEVER (closed loop emotionally valuable e-waste recovery), will look at how materials and product service systems for portable electronic devices can be developed to optimise recovery and reuse of components.

The University of Bath is leading on the project in collaboration with four other universities. Bath’s Dr Janet Scott said the research would seek to address the problems that rapid turnover in items such as consumer electronics bring.

“If consumers wanted to keep the attractive parts of their devices, while getting updates for functional hardware inside, we would have a mechanism for closing the loop on the scarce and valuable metals that these contain,” she explained.

Meanwhile EXHUME (efficient x-sector use of heterogeneous materials in manufacturing) will focus on the challenging task of recycling composite materials which are increasingly used in areas that involve fuel efficiency and product lightweighting.

The project will demonstrate vital remanufacturing science and chemical/process engineering to the waste industry. Data sets and exemplars of mixed composite processing will be drawn up, alongside resource footprints that can be used to drive the future of scrap reuse across different industrial sectors.

The University of Birmingham’s Dr Gary Leeke is leading on the work in collaboration with three other universities.

“Our research is exciting as it is expected to begin a step-change in resource efficiency,” he said. “The team will develop novel recycling processes and a systems approach to remanufacture composite scrap material for cross-sector applications.”

The third project CL4W (cleaning land for wealth) will investigate the use of a common class of plant to clean poisoned soils while producing platinum and arsenic nanoparticles for use in catalytic convertors and cancer treatments.

According to CL4W lead University of Warwick’s Professor Kerry Kirwan, the processes being developed will not only remove arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, but spearhead the development of biology and biorefining processes that can tailor the shape and size of metallic nanoparticles.

“This would give manufacturers of catalytic convertors, developers of cancer treatments and other applicable technologies exactly the right shape, size and functionality they need without subsequent refinemen,” Kirwan explained.

The final strand of research, CORE (creative outreach for resource efficiency) will support a programme to increase user involvement and understanding of resource efficiency.

Maxine Perella

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