EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Molecules to Product

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering

Abstract

The CDT in Molecules to Product addresses an overarching concern articulated by industry operating in the area of complex chemical products. It centres on the lack of a pipeline of doctoral graduates who understand the cross-scale issues that need to be addressed within the chemicals continuum. Translating their concern into a vision, the focus of the CDT is to train a new generation of research leaders with the skills and expertise to navigate the journey from a selected molecule or molecular system through to the final product that delivers the desired structure and required performance. To address this vision, three inter-related Themes form the foundation of the CDT - Product Functionalisation and Performance, Product Characterisation, and Process Modelling between Scales.
More specifically, industry has identified a real need to recruit PGR graduates with the interdisciplinary skills covered by the CDT research and training programme. As future leaders they will be instrumental in delivering enhanced process and product understanding, and hence the manufacture of a desired end effect such as taste, dissolution or stability. For example, if industry is better informed regarding the effect of the manufacturing process on existing products, can the process be made more efficient and cost effective through identifying what changes can be made to the current process? Alternatively, if there is an enhanced understanding of the effect of raw materials, could stages in the process be removed, i.e. are some stages simply historical and not needed. For radically new products that have been developed, is it possible through characterisation techniques to understand (i) the role/effect of each component/raw material on the final product; and (ii) how the product structure is impacted by the process conditions both chemical and mechanical? Finally, can predictive models be developed to realise effective scale up? Such a focus will assist industry to mitigate against wasted development time and costs allowing them to focus on products and processes where the risk of failure is reduced. Although the ethos of the CDT embraces a wide range of sectors, it will focus primarily on companies within speciality chemicals, home and personal care, fast moving consumer goods, food and beverage, and pharma/biopharma sectors.
The focus of the CDT is not singular to technical challenges: a core element will be to incorporate the concept of 'Education for Innovation' as described in The Royal Academy of Engineering Report, 'Educating engineers to drive the innovation economy'. This will be facilitated through the inclusion of innovation and enterprise as key strands within the research training programme. Through the combination of technical, entrepreneurial and business skills, the PGR students will have a unique set of skills that will set them apart from their peers and ultimately become the next generation of leaders in industry/academia.
The training and research agendas are dependent on strong engagement with multi-national companies, SMEs, start-ups and stakeholders. Core input includes the offering, and supervision of research projects; hosting of students on site for a minimum period of 3 months; the provision of mentoring to students; engagement with the training through the shaping and delivery of modules and the provision of in-house courses. Additional to this will be, where relevant, access to materials and products that form the basis of projects, the provision of software, access to on-site equipment and the loan of equipment.
In summary, the vision underpinning the CDT is too big and complex to be tackled through individual PhD projects - it is only through bringing academia and industry together from across multiple disciplines that a solution will be achievable. The CDT structure is the only route to addressing the overarching vision in a structured manner to realise delivery of the new approach to product development.

Planned Impact

The CDT in Molecules to Product has the potential to make a real impact as a consequence of the transformative nature of the underpinning 'design and supply' paradigm. Through the exploitation of the generated scientific knowledge, a new approach to the product development lifecycle will be developed. This know-how will impact significantly on productivity, consistency and performance within the speciality chemicals, home and personal care (HPC), fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), food and beverage, and pharma/biopharma sectors.
UK manufacturing is facing a major challenge from competitor countries such as China that are not constrained by fixed manufacturing assets, consequently they can make products more efficiently and at significantly lower operational costs. For example, the biggest competition for some well recognised 'high-end' brands is from 'own-brand' products (simple formulations that are significantly cheaper). For UK companies to compete in the global market, there is a real need to differentiate themselves from the low-cost competition, hence the need for uncopiable or IP protected, enhanced product performance, higher productivity and greater consistency. The CDT is well placed to contribute to addressing this shift in focus though its research activities, with the PGR students serving as ambassadors for this change. The CDT will thus contribute to the sustainability of UK manufacturing and economic prosperity.
The route to ensuring industry will benefit from the 'paradigm' is through the PGR students who will be highly employable as a result of their unique skills-set. This is a result of the CDT research and training programme addressing a major gap identified by industry during the co-creation of the CDT. Resulting absorptive capacity is thus significant. In addition to their core skills, the PGR students will learn new ones enabling them to work across disciplinary boundaries with a detailed understanding of the chemicals-continuum. Importantly, they will also be trained in innovation and enterprise enabling them to challenge the current status quo of 'development and manufacture' and become future leaders.
The outputs of the research projects will be collated into a structured database. This will significantly increase the impact and reach of the research, as well as ensuring the CDT outputs have a long-term transformative effect. Through this route, the industrial partners will benefit from the knowledge generated from across the totality of the product development lifecycle. The database will additionally provide the foundations from which 'benchmark processes' are tackled demonstrating the benefits of the new approach to transitioning from molecules to product.
The impact of the CDT training will be significantly wider than the CDT itself. By offering modules as Continuing Professional Development courses to industry, current employees in chemical-related sectors will have the opportunity to up-skill in new and emerging areas. The modules will also be made available to other CDTs, will serve as part of company graduate programmes and contribute to further learning opportunities for those seeking professional accreditation as Chartered Chemical Engineers.
The CDT, through public engagement activities, will serve as a platform to raise awareness of the scientific and technical challenges that underpin many of the items they rely on in daily life. For example, fast moving consumer goods including laundry products, toiletries, greener herbicides, over-the-counter drugs and processed foods. Activities will include public debates and local and national STEM events. All events will have two-way engagement to encourage the general public to think what the research could mean for them. Additionally these activities will provide the opportunity to dispel the myths around STEM in terms of career opportunities and to promote it as an activity to be embraced by all thereby contributing to the ED&I agenda.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022473/1 01/04/2019 30/09/2027
2271864 Studentship EP/S022473/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Harrison Johnson-Evans
2273601 Studentship EP/S022473/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Raphael Stone
2271870 Studentship EP/S022473/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Amna Khatun
2273479 Studentship EP/S022473/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Samuel Meredith
2273495 Studentship EP/S022473/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Janine Preston
2273492 Studentship EP/S022473/1 01/10/2019 01/10/2023 Anthony Griffiths