EPSRC and SFI Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Chemistry: Atoms-2-Products an Integrated Approach to Sustainable Chemistry

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham


Advanced economies are now confronted with a serious challenge that requires us to approach problem solving in a completely different way. As our global population continues to rise we must all consider several quite taxing philosophical questions, most pressingly we must address our addiction to economic growth, our expectation for longer, healthier lives and our insatiable need to collect more stuff! Societies demand for performance molecules, ranging from pharmaceuticals to fragrances or adhesives to lubricants, is growing year-on-year and the advent of competition in a globalised market place is generally forcing the market price downward, cutting margins and reducing the ability for some industry sectors to innovate. Atoms to Products (A2P) is an exciting opportunity to forge a new philosophy that could underpin the next phase of sustainable growth for the chemicals manufacturing industry in the UK and further afield. An overarching driving force in the development of A2P was the desire to apply the knowledge and learning of Green and Sustainable Chemistry to the creative phases embedded in the discovery and development of performance molecules that deliver function in applications as diverse as pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and food.

We propose a multi-disciplinary CDT in sustainable chemistry which aims to achieve a sustainable pipeline of performance molecules from design-to-delivery. A2P will create an Integrated Approach to Sustainable Chemistry, promoting a culture of waste minimisation, emphasising the development of a circular economy in terms of materials and matter replacing current modes of consumption and resource use.

A2P represents a multidisciplinary group of 40 academic advisors spanning 7 academic disciplines, working together with a growing family of industrial partners spanning well-known multinationals including Unilever, GSK, AstraZeneca and Croda, and niche SMEs, including Promethean Particles, Sygnature and European Thermodynamics. Interestingly all partners have expressed a common desire to develop Smarter products using Better chemistry to enable Faster processing and Shorter manufacturing routes.
A2P will drive innovation by:

1 fostering a multidisciplinary, cohort based approach to problem solving;

2 focussing on challenge areas identified by our A2P partners such that sub-groups of our cohort can become immersed in research at the "coal-face";

3 embedding aspects of data-driven decision making in the day-to-day design and execution of high quality research either on paper or indeed in the lab;

4 nurturing a vibrant and supportive community that allows PhD candidates to think 'outside of the box' in a relatively risk- free way;

5 empowering the development of 'next generation' synthetic methods to drive efficiency, selectivity and productivity, underpinned my molecular modelling and the use of machine learning to extract additional value from experimental data;

6 developing sustainable processes that deliver efficiency and transition to scale-up from g to Kg, under-utilised approaches, including electrochemistry, will be investigated increase atom efficiency and reduce reliance on precious metals;

7 enabling efficient scale-up of new processes using flow-chemistry and 3-D printing technology to "print" the most efficient reactor system, thereby maximising throughput whilst efficiently managing mass transport and thermal factors;

8 applying robust reaction/process evaluation metrics such that comparative advantages can be quantified, providing evidence for real process decision making.

Integration of outcomes from all A2P PhD projects, in combination with the expertise of all A2P partners, will deliver a major contribution to the health of the UK chemicals manufacturing industry. A2P will provide mentorship and training to the next generation of leaders securing innovation and future growth for this critical manufacturing sector.

Planned Impact

This CDT will deliver impact aligned to the following agendas:

A2P will provide over 60 PhD graduates with the skill sets required to deliver innovative sustainable products and processes into the UK chemicals manufacturing industry. A2P will inspire and develop leaders who will:
- understand the needs of industrial end-users;
- embed sustainability across a range of sectors; and
- catalyse the transition to a more productive and resilient UK economy.

A2P will promote a step change towards a circular economy that embraces resilience and efficiency in terms of atoms and energy. The benefits of adopting more sustainable design principles and smarter production are clear. For example, the global production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) has been estimated at 65,000-100,000 tonnes per annum. The scale of associated waste is > 10 million tonnes per annum with a disposal cost of more than £15 billion. Consequently, even a modest efficiency increase by applying new, more sustainable chemical processes would deliver substantial economic savings and environmental wins. A2P will seek and deliver systematic gains across all sectors of the chemicals manufacturing industry. Our goals of providing cross-scale training in chemical sciences with economic and life- cycle awareness will drive uptake of sustainable best practice in UK industry, leading to improved economic competitiveness.

This CDT will deliver significant new knowledge in the development of more sustainable processes and products. It will integrate the philosophy of sustainability with catalysis, synthetic methodology, process engineering, and scale-up. Critical concepts such as energy/resource efficiency, life cycle analysis, recycling, and sustainability metrics will become seamlessly joined to what is considered a 'normal' approach to new molecular products. This knowledge and experience will be shared through publications, conferences and other engagement activities. A2P partners will provide efficient routes to market ensuring the efficient translation and transferal of new technologies is realised, ensuring impact is achieved.

The chemistry-using industries manufacture a rich portfolio of products that are critical in maintaining a high quality of life in the UK. A2P will provide highly trained people and new knowledge to develop smarter, better products, whilst increasing the efficiency and sustainability of chemicals manufacture.
To amplify the impacts of our CDT, effective public engagement and technology transfer will become crucially important. As a general comment, 'sustainability' styled research is often regarded in a positive light by society, however, the science that underpins its effective implementation is often poorly appreciated. The University of Nottingham has developed an effective communication portfolio (with dedicated outreach staff) to tackle this issue. In addition to more traditional routes of scientific communication and dissemination, A2P will develop a portfolio of engagement and outreach activities including blogs, webpages, public outreach events, and contribution of material to our award-winning YouTube channel, www.periodicvideos.com.

A2P will build on our successful Sustainable Chemicals and Processes Industry Forum (SCIF), which will provide entry to networks with a wide range of chemical science end-users (spanning multinationals through to speciality SMEs), policy makers and regulators. We will share new scientific developments and best practice with leaders in these areas, to help realise the full impact of our CDT. Annual showcase events will provide a forum where knowledge may be disseminated to partners, we will broaden these events to include participants from thematically linked CDTs from across the UK, we will build on our track record of delivering hi-impact inter-CDT events with complementary centres hosted by the Universities of Bath and Bristol.


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