Transforming the Foundation Industries: a Network+ Towards Value by Innovation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Materials Science and Engineering

Abstract

The UK Foundation Industries (Glass, Metals, Cement, Ceramics, Bulk Chemicals and Paper), are worth £52B to the UK economy, produce 28 million tonnes of materials per year and account for 10% of the UK total CO2 emissions. These industries face major challenges in meeting the UK Government's legal commitment for 2050 to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 100% relative to 1990, as they are characterised by highly intensive use of both resources and energy.

While all sectors are implementing steps to increase recycling and reuse of materials, they are at varying stages of creating road maps to zero carbon. These roadmaps depend on the switching of the national grid to low carbon energy supply based on green electricity and sustainable sources of hydrogen and biofuels along with carbon capture and storage solutions. Achievement of net zero carbon will also require innovations in product and process design and the adoption of circular economy and industrial symbiosis approaches via new business models, enabled as necessary by changes in national and global policies. Additionally, the Governments £4.7B National Productivity Investment Fund recognises the need for raising UK productivity across all industrial sectors to match best international standards. High levels of productivity coupled with low carbon strategies will contribute to creating a transformation of the foundation industry landscape, encouraging strategic retention of the industries in the UK, resilience against global supply chain shocks such as Covid-19 and providing quality jobs and a clean environment.

The strategic importance of these industries to UK productivity and environmental targets has been acknowledged by the provision of £66M from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to support a Transforming Foundation Industries cluster. Recognising that the individual sectors will face many common problems and opportunities, the TFI cluster will serve to encourage and facilitate a cross sectoral approach to the major challenges faced. As part of this funding an Academic Network Plus will be formed, to ensure the establishment of a vibrant community of academics and industry that can organise and collaborate to build disciplinary and interdisciplinary solutions to the major challenges. The Network Plus will serve as a basis to ensure that the ongoing £66M TFI programme is rolled out, underpinned by a portfolio of the best available UK interdisciplinary science, and informed by cross sectoral industry participation.

Our network, initially drawn from eight UK universities, and over 30 industrial organisations will support the UK foundation industries by engaging with academia, industry, policy makers and non-governmental organisations to identify and address challenges and opportunities to co-develop and adopt transformative technologies, business models and working practices. Our expertise covers all six foundation industries, with relevant knowledge of materials, engineering, bulk chemicals, manufacturing, physical sciences, informatics, economics, circular economy and the arts & humanities. Through our programme of mini-projects, workshops, knowledge transfer, outreach and dissemination, the Network will test concepts and guide the development of innovative outcomes to help transform UK foundation industries. The Network will be inclusive across disciplines, embracing best practice in Knowledge Exchange from the Arts and Humanities, and inclusive of the whole UK academic and industrial communities, enabling access for all to the activity programme and project fund opportunities.

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