EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Formulation Engineering: Sustainable Structured Products

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

Abstract

Formulation engineering is concerned with the manufacture and use of microstructured materials, whose usefulness depends on their microstructure. For example, the taste, texture and shine of chocolate depends on the cocoa butter being in the right crystal form - when chocolate is heated and cooled its microstructure changes to the unsightly and less edible 'bloomed' form. Formulated products are widespread, and include foods, pharmaceuticals, paints, catalysts, structured ceramics, thin films, cosmetics, detergents and agrochemicals, with a total value of £180 bn per year. In all of these, material formulation and microstructure control the physical and chemical properties that are essential to the product function. The research issues that affect different industry sectors are common: the need is to understand the processing that results in optimal nano- to micro structure and thus product effect. Products are mostly complex soft materials; structured solids, soft solids or structured liquids, with highly process-dependent properties. The CDT fits into Priority Theme 2 of the EPSRC call: Design and Manufacture of Complex Soft Material Products. The vision for the CDT is to be a world-leading provider of research and training addressing the manufacture of formulated products.

The UK is internationally-leading in formulation, with many research and manufacturing sites of national and multinational companies, but the subject is interdisciplinary and thus is not taught in many first degree courses. A CDT is thus needed to support this industry sector and to develop future leaders in formation engineering. The existing CDT in Formulation Engineering has received to date > £6.5 million in industry cash, has graduated >75 students and has 46 currently registered. The CDT has led the field; the new National Formulation Centre at CPI was created in 2016, and we work closely with them. The strategy of the new Centre has been co-created with industry: the CDT will develointerdisciplinary research projects in the sustainable manufacture of the next generation of formulated products, with focus in two areas (i) Manufacturing and Manufacturability of New Materials for New Markets 'M4', generating understanding to create sustainable routes to formulated products, and (ii) 'Towards 4.0rmulation': using modern data handling and manufacturing methods ('Industry 4.0') in formulation. We have more than 25 letters from companies offering studentships and >£9 million of support. The research of the Centre will be carried out in collaboration with a range of industry partners: our strategy is to work with companies that are are world-leading in a number of areas; foods (PepsiCo, Mondelez, Unilever), HPC (P+G, Unilever), fine chemicals (Johnson Matthey, Innospec), pharma (AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb) and aerospace (Rolls-Royce). This structure maximises the synergy possible through working with non-competing groups. We will carry out at least 50 collaborative projects with industry, most of which will be EngD projects in which students are embedded within industrial companies, and return to the University for training courses. This gives excellent training to the students in industrial research; in addition to carrying out a research project of industrial value, students gain experience of industry, present their work at internal and external meetings and receive training in responsible research methods and in the interdisciplinary science and engineering that underpin this critical industry sector.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of the research and training of the CDT will be UK industry, the graduates of the programme, the wider academic community, and consumers :

(i) UK industry: the formulation sector is wide and diverse, and our industry partners are world-leading in a number of areas; foods (PepsiCo, Mondelez, Unilever), HPC (P+G, Unilever), fine chemicals (Johnson Matthey, Innospec), pharma (AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Imerys) and aerospace (Rolls-Royce). All projects are cocreated with industry, and cofunded - the majority will be EngD students based in company sites. Industry will benefit in a number of ways: (i) from a supply of trained graduates in this critical area, with > 90% of graduates of the programme to date getting jobs in formulation companies, and (ii) through participation in industry-academia research projects in which students work within the company on projects of practical value, (iii) through the synergy possible between companies in different non-competitive sectors (we have current projects between Mondelez and P+G, and Johnson Matthey and Unilever resulting from CDT linkages). We will also work with Catapult Centres, including the National Formulation Centre at CPI and the MTC at Coventry, to enhance the industry relevance of the CDT and train students in modern manufacturing methods.

(ii) Graduates of the programme: students are trained in a critical area where graduates are in short supply, obtain training and experience of the issues involved in industrial and collaborative research, present their work at external and internal meetings and get good jobs (>90% within formulation companies). Many of our graduates are now reaching senior positions in industry, and one, Dr Stewart Welch of Rolls Royce, is now the representative of Rolls-Royce on our Industrial Management Committee. In the next 5 years we will build at least 50 new projects with companies, creating EngD and PhD graduates, a new generation of leaders for the formulation industries.

(iii) Wider academic community in the UK and elsewhere. We will ensure that students on the programme write papers (as many as possible with industrial co-authors) on formulation projects. This is a vital part of the CDT, as it both ensures and demonstrates the academic quality of the programme. We have published extensively in areas such as; soft solid mixing processes (Unilever, Johnson Matthey; see Hall et al., Chem.Eng. Res. Des. 91, 2156-2168, 2013); food materials for enhanced mouthfeel, low-salt and low-sugar delivery, (Pepsico, Nestle, Mondelez; such as Moakes et al RSC Advances 5, 60786-60795, 2015); design of innovative cleaning strategies (Unilever, GSK, Heineken, P+G; Food Bioprod. Proc., 93, 269-282, 2015); characterisation of domestic cleaning processes (washing machines and dishwashers) to minimise water usage (P+G; Chem.Eng Sci., 75, 14, 2012); in-vitro models for formulated product breakdown and nutrient and drug delivery in the mouth, stomach and GI tract; EngD work followed up by BBSRC and industry funding (Eur J Nutr. 55, 2377-2388, 2016); dynamics of spray driers (P+G, AIChE J 61 1804-1821 2015; Chem. Eng. Sci. 162, 284-299, 2017), and ways to reduce waste in soyamilk production (Unilever; Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies, 41, 47-55, 2017).

(iv) consumers: many of the companies we work with are involved in Fast Moving Consumer Goods, where research has direct consumer benefit, for example in the creation of low fat foods that have high-fat mouthfeel. In addition, the overall aim of the programme is to develop sustainable formulated products and processes; such materials will be better for the environment and consumers.

Publications

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