LAYERS of material flows for E-tech elements

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Civil Engineering and Geosciences


To achieve carbon reduction targets as we move increasingly away from the use of fossil fuels, the infrastructure of electricity generation and transport will change as wind generation and electric vehicles become more important. Both of these require very specific materials, the so-called E-tech elements, and the ability of the mining industry to supply these is a matter of strategic significance. The provision of new technology on the required scale carries a significant risk of failure to secure materials needed to deliver the politically-agreed targets.

Our proposal sets out to develop a generic approach to understanding and modelling the supply chain through Material Flow Analysis, uniquely adding a geological component with associated spatial visualisation and uncertainty. We will use standard methodology (ISO 14041), which is part of the ISO 14001 family; and these management systems are familiar to stakeholders.

We add to these layers descriptions of geological (and so geographical) distribution of sources of selected E-tech elements, following through to consider the implications of space (geographical location) and time (including lead times from exploration through mining to product) at all stages of the supply chain. Using this approach, we will produce a tool that enables users to understand where bottlenecks arise in the supply chain, informing decisions that relate to resource use that include end-of-life recovery of these elements and providing constraints that inform policy makers. Our proposal involves close liaison with key representatives of non-academic users of E-tech elements.

Planned Impact

The proposed research involves very close liaison with key representatives of the user community, who have already been involved with definition of the proposal as project partners. To maximise impact, we intend to extend the associated partner base, focusing on representatives from the non-academic community of each layer in our analysis - geology, mining, processing, manufacturing, consumption/use, and end of life. We plan to have a core of project partners who have been committed at an early stage, and form a steering group to ensure good communication between the research and practitioner sectors of needs and capabilities. We plan to grow the number of non-academic participants as the project develops, with all stakeholders informing the work as it progresses but not necessarily joining the steering group (unless there is a need for specific expertise that is otherwise lacking). We will publish the findings of the Catalyst award in an academic and industrial journals and websites, which will facilitate subsequent exploitation.

The process of engagement with the user community focuses on a programme of physical meetings, which provides the opportunity for dissemination of our findings and for non-academic participants to provide feedback either openly or in confidence. During the Catalyst stage, this will not be open to the public, although it is expected that a public face (via the web or other means) is part of the Impact plan for a full proposal.

Research into establishing the potential impact for industry and governmental organisation and their strategies is one pillar of LAYERS; a second pillar is to realise this potential by transferring the knowledge gained to organizations that have the ability and expertise to translate these into working applications. Our planned activities for the Catalyst grant include engagement with relevant players from the commercial sector, who, through their varied contributions will provide an initial pathway for application and exploitation. This encompasses the contributions from our industrial partners such as Granta Design, Oakdene Hollins, Urban Foresight etc., which have been involved from the outset in identifying research needs and planning this project. However, we will open LAYERS to organisations that want to contribute, or have relevant research interests, and can play a role in disseminating our findings.

It is anticipated that IP will be generated during the course of this research, and we will take care to work with Newcastle University's Business Development team to record innovative steps as soon as possible, and to investigate how best to exploit what is created.


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Description Remember that this was a Catalyst Grant, so outputs are not necessarily to be expected. We didnt get funding to move to the next stage, and so what was started has not been progressed.

The research developed a tool that allows the flow of materials through society to be visualised in a geographical context. So, users can easily see where a material is mined, then processed, manufactured and sold as a commodity, followed by the track of waste. For the first time, we combine geographical information with material flow analysis.
Exploitation Route New research proposals with industry support.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Construction,Electronics,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description This was a Catalyst Award, and so was expected to lead to further funding; it was unsuccessful at that stage. However the work done contributed to a major project (£300k industry funding) with a Brazilian company (Terrativa SA).
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Other
Impact Types Economic