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New £4.3m centre to improve the sustainability of the UK chemical industry

11 November 2020

Chemical plant

Cardiff University is joining forces with universities across the UK to revolutionise the way resources are managed in the UK’s £32bn chemical industry and build a greener, more efficient and circular economy.

The £4.3m National Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy (NIC3E) brings together seven universities and more than 20 industrial and international partners to devise ways of reducing our reliance on the import of raw materials for our industries.

As part of NIC3E, the Cardiff University team will design catalysts to transform discarded compounds to useful compounds, such as lubricants and fuels.

Catalysts is the process of using very specific compounds to speed up chemical reactions to make products cheaper, cleaner, safer and more sustainable. It is estimated that 90% of all chemical reactions are catalysed, and, thus, it resides at the heart of NIC3E.

As part of the gaseous waste streams, the Centre aims to capture carbon dioxide directly and transform it into fresh olefin feedstocks. Olefins are the raw materials for 70% of all organic chemical production, used to create synthetic fibres, plastics, solvents and other high value-specialities.

Cardiff University scientists will be using state-of-the-art computer simulations to screen hundreds of materials to accelerate the design of durable and efficient catalysts.

Cardiff University leader on the project, Dr Alberto Roldan Martinez, from the School of Chemistry, said: “The foundation of NIC3E offers an excellent opportunity to drive step changes in the capabilities and sustainability of the chemical manufacturing industries, placing the UK closer to a waste-zero economy while enhancing the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector.”

As well as developing new transformative technologies, NIC3E will work with businesses to improve all aspects of the manufacturing process to reduce their carbon footprint.

Partners on the project range from multinationals such as Exon Mobil, Shell, Unilever and Croda to SMEs, national and local initiatives, including WRAP, representing the full diversity and breadth of the chemical industry.

The Centre will also look at ways to encourage members of the public to accept renewable technology and products by working with policymakers to improve attitudes towards the circular economy.

"The development of a sustainable chemicals industry is vital for the UK and the world and the scientific developments proposed in this exciting project will be key to achieving this goal,” said Professor Sir Richard Catlow, a member of the project team also from the School of Chemistry.

The centre is part of a £22.5m investment announced today, which will transform how the UK manages the country’s waste and resource economy – more specifically, in the textiles, construction, chemical and metal industries.

Five UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres will be established to meet these goals.

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