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UK circular economy centres to forge industry-wide sustainability

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – the government body which directs research and innovation funding – has set up five centres to explore ways of reusing waste materials in the textiles, construction, electronics, chemical and metal industries. The centres – to be collectively known as the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub – have each been granted £4.5m funding by the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund.

Each of the centres will be led by a team from selected universities and partnered by representatives from companies across each of the industries. In addition to the £22.5m allocated to the five universities, another £11.5m will be provided for partners and in-kind expert advice.

The aim of the project is to move towards a circular economy approach which emphasises continuous lifecycles for materials and away from the build-use-demolish business model once prevalent in certain industries. The centres will lead to reduced waste, lower environmental impact and opportunities for new UK industries.

The five centres and the brief given to each are:

Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre will research turning used clothes, crop residue and household waste into renewable materials to reduce reliance on imported and environmentally/ethically impactful textiles. This centre will be led by the Royal College of Art.

Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials (ICEC-MCM) will explore how improved design and manufacture of mineral-based products and structures can assist the UK construction industry. University College London will lead this centre.

Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy aims to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels of the UK chemicals industry by creating and implementing methods to recover and reuse raw materials from used products and carbon dioxide emissions. Loughborough University is to lead this centre.

Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre in Technology Metals will explore how to reuse the technology metals (e.g. lithium, cobalt) used in clean and digital technologies such as electric vehicles and wind turbines with Exeter University as the lead.

Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals led by Brunel University will look at how metals can be recycled for use in sectors such as aerospace, automotive and electronics. The ultimate aim is to allow the UK to fully circulate metals by 2050.

It is estimated that, globally, the construction industry is responsible for almost 40% of global emissions. Within the UK, waste arising from the construction and demolition business has been estimated to amount to over 64 million tonnes annually.

Research by the ICEC-MCM will trace how mineral-based construction materials flow through the entire economy. It will analyse the stage when the waste arises and look beyond the sector to find re-use capabilities. The ICEC-MCM will also encourage enhanced usage of digital technologies to eliminate waste.


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