New Industrial Systems: Manufacturing Immortality

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Biochemistry


The development of future real-world technologies will be dependent on our ability to understand and harness the underlying principles of living systems, and to direct communication between biological parts and man-made materials. Recent advances in DNA synthesis, sequencing and ultra-sensitive analytical techniques amongst others, have reignited interest in extending the repertoire of functional materials by interfacing them with components derived from biology, blurring the boundary between the living and non-living world. These bio-hybrid systems hold great promise for use in a range of application areas including, for example, the sensing of toxins or pollutants in our environment, diagnosing life-threatening ilnesses in humans and animals, or delivering drugs to specific locations within patients bodies to treat a range of diseases, e.g. cancer.

During this project we propose to develop innovative manufacturing methods to enable the reliable and scaleable production of evolvable bio-hybrid systems that possess the inherent ability to sense and repair damage, so-called 'immortal' products. This will ultimately lead to the development of products and devices that can continue to function without needing repair or replacement over the course of their life. For example, imagine a mobile phone that can self-repair its own screen after being dropped, or a circuit board in a laptop computer that can repair itself after being short-circuited. The outputs of this project have the potential to provide solutions to some of our greatest societal challenges and by doing so to reinvigorate the UK manufacturing industry by establishing it as a world leader in the production of self-healing systems. We propose to focus our efforts on three specific application areas. These are:

1. Electrochemical energy devices, e.g. fuel cells and batteries that are needed to power our everyday lives, from mobile phones to electric cars.

2. Consumer electronics, which underpin many of the core technologies that we encounter and use on a day-to-day basis, e.g. computers or televisions.

3. Safety critical systems that are used in the nuclear industry and deep sea technologies, e.g. deep sea cables that can withstand many years of use without needing to be replaced.

Planned Impact

The overarching goal of this project is to establish a bio-digitally enabled New Industrial System (NIS) that will allow the manufacture of 21st century bio-hybrid products with the inherent ability to evolve function and heal damage following insult or injury. We seek to exemplify the principle of material immortality, and demonstrate that it is manufacturable, and that there is a design aesthetic and business model which enables its implementation. Our hypothesis is that this NIS, which draws upon existing UK academic expertise, will represent an exemplar for future manufacturing systems and will position the UK as a global leader in manufacturing technologies, superseding existing methods which do not demonstrate circular economy principles.

We will exemplify our approach in three application areas where the potential for transformation is significant both in terms of economic value, but also in terms of providing employment in the UK and producing goods to export. As such, we believe considerable impact can be achieved. During this project we will work in close collaboration with industrial partners to ensure the challenges being addressed are of commercial relevance and that we realize the economic potential of our research. With its wide-range of interacting disciplines and industrial partners 'Manufacturing Immortality' will provide a platform for innovation far removed from a 'business-as-usual' model.

Our objectives to enhance and realize effective commercial impact are to:
- identify and protect any intellectual property arising from the research;
- identify and capitalize on any commercial opportunities arising from the research;
- work with our current industrial partners, or where necessary identify and approach new industrial partners, to establish productive research collaborations and deliver commercial impact. We will utilize the skills of our Advisory Board to give oversight to this process, and as a sounding board for our commercialization strategy and its delivery.

Our objectives to realize effective public impact are to:
- raise public awareness of our research and its potential benefits;
- address any public worries about inclusion of GMOs in consumer products or widely utilized technologies.
- receive training and instruction in facilitating public engagement and media training;
- publicize significant advances in our research through the broadcast, online social media and print media.

Our objectives to realize third sector impact are to:
- raise the profile of our research at partner Universities and beyond;
- establish and maintain strong links with Departments other than our own, largely though not exclusively through interactions with our collaborators and both local, national and international network activities;
- realize the impact of our research through interdisciplinary collaborations, high profile publications, patent applications, industrial links and political engagement.

Our objectives to realize training impact are to:
- recruit and nurture the most-promising early career researchers;
- provide PDRAs and allied PhD students with the highest quality training, and the experience of working in a multidisciplinary team at the cutting edge of scientific research;
- provide career guidance and support to all PDRAs and PhD students working on the project;
- provide a crossdisciplinary environment as an exemplar and training aide for this type of project within our institutions and our individual subject areas.


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