EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Formulation Engineering

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Chemical Engineering


The proposal seeks funds to renew and refresh the Centre for Doctoral Training in Formulation Engineering based in Chemical Engineering at Birmingham. The Centre was first funded by EPSRC in 2001, and was renewed in 2008. In 2011, on its 10th anniversary, the Centre received one of the Diamond Jubilee Queen's Anniversary Prizes, for 'new technologies and leadership in formulation engineering in support of UK manufacturing'. The scheme is an Engineeering Doctoral Centre; students are embedded in their sponsoring company and carry out industry-focused research.

Formulation Engineering is the study of the manufacture of products that are structured at the micro-scale, and whose properties depend on this structure. In this it differs from conventional chemical engineering. Examples include foods, home and personal care products, catalysts, ceramics and agrichemicals. In all of these material formulation and microstructure control the physical and chemical properties that are essential to its function. The structure determines how molecules are delivered or perceived - for example, in foods delivery is of flavour molecules to the mouth and nose, and of nutritional benefit to the GI tract, whilst in home and personal care delivery is to skin or to clothes to be cleaned, and in catalysis it is delivery of molecules to and from the active site.

Different industry sectors are thus underpinned by the same engineering science. We have built partnerships with a series of companies each of whom is world-class in its own field, such as P&G, Kraft/Mondelez, Unilever, Johnson Matthey, Imerys, Pepsico and Rolls Royce, each of which has written letters of support that confirm the value of the programme and that they will continue to support the EngD. Research Engineers work within their sponsoring companies and return to the University for training courses that develop the concepts of formulation engineering as well as teaching personal and management skills; a three day conference is held every year at which staff from the different companies interact and hear presentations on all of the projects. Outputs from the Centre have been published in high-impact journals and conferences, IP agreements are in place with each sponsoring company to ensure both commercial confidentiality and that key aspects of the work are published. Currently there are 50 ongoing projects, and of the Centre's graduates, all are employed and more than 85% have found employment in formulation companies.

EPSRC funds are requested to support 8 projects/year for 5 years, together with the salary of the Deputy Director who works to link the University, the sponsors and the researchers and is critical to ensure that the projects run efficiently and the cohorts interact well. Two projects/year will be funded by the University (which will also support a lecturer, total >£1 million over the life of the programme) and through other sources such as the 1851 Exhibition fund, which is currently funding 3 projects. EPSRC funding will leverage at least £3 million of direct industry contributions and £8 million of in-kind support, as noted in the supporting letters. EPSRC funding of £4,155,480 will enable a programme with total costs of more than £17 million to operate, an EPSRC contribution of 24% to the whole programme.

Planned Impact

The outcomes of the proposal will have major impact in a number of areas. The need for research and trained graduates in this critical area has already been demonstrated both by the number of our partner companies who have written to support the proposal, and by the number of our graduates who have been taken on by major companies. The added value of the Centre concept is the linkage between different companies from different sectors whose business is driven by the same science.

Impact will be:

(i) to partner companies; the work of the Research Engineers within the companies is linked to real business needs and allows the company to take time to work on problems that are significant barriers to progress. Outputs from the programme are immediately of value in terms of understanding existing business processes or developing new ones. The companies may also benefit from the link to the University in terms of developing further research linkages to leverage their own research funds, such as the Rolls-Royce and Birmingham collaboration in high temperature casting, the large EPSRC and EU projects between Birmingham and P&G, and TSB funding for projects led by Kraft/Mondelez, Syngenta and Pepsico. The Research Engineers themselves are also highly valued by the companies as future employees.

(ii) to the Research Engineers; during the EngD they gain understanding both of the science that underpins formulation engineering, and of the critical business drivers that power the sector. They work on a project of both academic and industrial value, and must generate outputs that satisfy both their sponsoring company and the requirements of the University. This is a significant challenge which allows them to develop their academic and professional skills. The success of the research and training approach is seen by the large number (>85%) of our graduates that have found immediate employment in formulation companies. We enclose letters from five graduates, two of whom are now themselves supervising EngDs, who describe the success of the programme;

(iii) to UK academia and industry; we have pioneered the Formulation concept in the UK. This is currently being developed by CIKTN and TSB, with the first TSB call for work on formulated products in early May 2013. This is a vital sector for UK industry that has historically not been recognised by such support - the example set and work done by the Centre has been one of the factors that has enabled these new linkages to occur;

(iv) to the wider research and teaching within the Centre: the EngD allows us to build and sustain collaborative links with a range of companies each world-class in their field. Increasingly the linkages are developed by further collaborative research and Strategic Partnerships with companies such as P&G and Rolls-Royce. The School benefits by these contacts to ensure that research applications are grounded in genuine industrial need, and thus that the work carried out is of maximal relevance and impact in its turn. The training courses developed on the EngD have been used as the basis for MSc and MRes training for >100 students to date, are given to Chemical Engineering MEng students and will be grouped to create the UKs first MSc in Formulation Engineering in 2014-15.

(v) to society, through the outputs of the research: Formulation is a key industry in areas such as Fast-Moving Consumer Goods that produce a wide range of products that are of value - increased understanding of the manufacture of formulated products enables these materials to be produced both more sustainably and reliably thus reducing manufacturing cost. The work of the Centre is aimed at developing new ways of manufacturing products with societal benefit, for example the creation of food products that have reduced salt and fat levels but the same consumer response, or cleaning products that use lower amounts of water and less energy. Such products will have direct benefits to consumers.


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