The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is investing £12.9 million in the UK Catalysis Hub, a UK-wide research programme into catalytic science focused on supporting UK economic growth while helping reduce CO2 emissions, produce cleaner water and generate more sustainable energy.
David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science said: "Catalysis science is vital for many areas of the UK economy, from food production to pharmaceuticals. This investment will provide a focal point for the UK's leading expertise in this area, helping scientists further develop their skills and undertake cutting edge research to drive sustainable growth."
Catalysts speed up chemical reactions making them possible on useful timescales. Catalysis science is at the heart of key industrial processes both current and in the future and virtually all manufactured goods at some point in their manufacture involve the use of a catalyst.
Key examples are:
- Environmental applications – the clean-up of transport and industrial emissions
- Product synthesis – e.g. fertilisers, explosives, fuels, drugs, fibres, polymers
- Efficient production of clean fuels, biofuels and clean water
Companies based in the UK play a big role globally in all these areas and generate wealth of £50 billion per annum as well as intellectual property for UK plc. Catalysis is critical to the country's chemical, energy, pharmaceutical, food, personal care and materials sectors; development of catalysis is also key to emerging sectors such as industrial biotechnology.
The UK has world-class strength and capability in catalysis and process engineering, with EPSRC having funded £28.5 million of catalysis research from 2006-2011. The new research programme builds on this expertise and support.
David Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC, said: "The UK has some outstanding researchers in the field of Catalysis, and it is a vital field for UK industry with a major role to play in the creation of new or improved processes. That is why EPSRC is strategically investing in this Catalysis Hub. Building on our previous initiatives, it will draw academics and institutions together to further enable cross-disciplinary research, and create a critical mass of activity which will enhance the international standing of the UK catalysis community and help it address the major challenges faced in the Physical Sciences, Energy, Manufacturing and Healthcare themes."
The UK Catalysis Hub, based at the Research Complex at Harwell (RCaH) in Oxfordshire, will coordinate multi-disciplinary scientists and chemical engineers from over 30 different universities. The Hub will enable scientists to collaborate on projects, share insights, expertise and developments; facilitate world-class research and attract new funding streams. Researchers will work at different universities, and the RCaH will offer training and research. "It's this combination of ideas from multi-disciplinary teams and across projects that will lead to breakthroughs," said co-project leader Professor Christopher Hardacre of Queen's University, Belfast.
Co-project leader, Professor Graham Hutchings, from Cardiff University, said: "Catalysis is a key area of science which can tackle the big problems. We will use catalysts in non-traditional ways and in new innovative areas."
Four inter-related themes will be addressed with teams interacting between projects to advance catalytic science:
Catalyst Design, led by Professor Richard Catlow, University College London, based at the Research Complex at Harwell Oxford Science Park. Awarded £3.7 million.
Professor Catlow said: "The overall theme of the research is to develop how catalysts work at a molecular level and, from that knowledge, to design new and improved catalysts. The molecular understanding of catalytic processes will lead to an optimisation of catalytic processes that will feed into the other projects."
Catalysis for Energy, led by Professor Christopher Hardacre, Queen's University Belfast. Awarded £3 million.
This project will develop technologies for transforming fossil fuel resources such as remote natural gas, coal bed methane and shale gas; develop new sustainable energy sources; improve energy efficiency and storage; and reduce energy costs
"We need greater sustainability and efficiency in energy use." said Professor Hardacre. "Our research will focus on converting renewable sources such as solar and biomass into chemical and electrochemical energy for use in power generation via, for example, fuel cells for applications from cars and mobile phones to domestic and commercial combined heat and power systems. By studying the overall processes involved we will be able to see how making changes to them can improve efficiency and develop systems for clean, reliable energy."
Environmental Catalysis, led by Professor Graham Hutchings, Cardiff University. Awarded £3.19 million.
Professor Hutchings said: "We will look at how to take 'waste' materials such as carbon dioxide and use them to make useful materials, with specific focus on cleaning up atmospheric pollutants, water purification for re-use, protecting the environment and cleaner manufacturing."
Catalysis for Chemical Transformations, led by Professor Matthew Davidson, University of Bath. Awarded £2.9 million.
Professor Davidson said: "We aim to develop new catalysis for sustainable chemical transformations central to the manufacturing processes of bulk chemicals, fine chemicals, polymers and materials. Our goal is to develop new catalytic processes as well as make existing processes more sustainable in order to give the UK a competitive edge. Chemistry-using industries are vital for the UK and world economies, and catalytic science is the cornerstone of a sustainable chemical industry. Catalysis is used to make pharmaceuticals and is fundamental to the manufacture of fuels, solvents, plastics and foodstuffs from a wide range of fossil-based resources and biomass."
Total investment in the four themes is £12.9million