EPSRC announces further £14 million to keep UK Catalysis Hub sparking

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A new £14 million investment into the UK's Catalysis Hub that will support a nationwide research programme is announced today by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Centred at the Research Complex at the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire, the Hub will co-ordinate a collaborative research program across the UK.

Three institutions, the University of Bath, Cardiff University, and The University of Manchester will lead three of the Hub's themes, with 25 universities directly involved in projects and over 45 involved in a wider network across the catalysis community.

The Hub is focused on building the UK economy through designing new catalysts and processes for clean water, sustainable energy and low carbon, resource efficient manufacturing of fuels, plastics and chemicals.

Professor Lynn Gladden, EPSRC's Executive Chair, said Catalysis is important for UK and global industry, generating £50 billion a year for the UK economy, as well as intellectual property for big and small UK companies and universities.

This further funding for catalysis research will help our research communities and industries develop new products and processes that will bring economic and social benefit to the UK. We have to maintain our research capability to keep our nation productive and resilient.

There will also be a core theme which will provide key management and governance for the scientific programmes operated by the Hub. The Core will coordinate all the Hub activities and interaction with the UK catalysis community via conferences, workshops, website and social media, and community development.

It will ensure technique development at the Harwell Hub through two science work packages:

  • WP1: High throughput and improved sample environments for catalysis at central facilities - Emma Gibson (Glasgow)
  • WP2: Data analysis, processing and curation - Barbara Montanari (STFC)

The three interrelated themes of the Hub are:

  • Optimising, Predicting and Designing New Catalysts
  • Catalysis at the Water-energy Nexus
  • Catalysis for the Circular Economy and Sustainable Manufacturing

The principal investigators for the themes are:

Catalysts speed up chemical reactions making key processes feasible, and economically viable. They are the heart of nearly all industrial processes and products.

Catalytic processes are key technologies in developing new sustainable products and energy. Examples include using waste CO2, degradable plastics and recycling, replacement of fossil-based with bio-based platform chemicals, treatment and use of wastewater to produce energy and sustainable energy processes.

Professor Graham Hutchings, Director of the UK Catalysis Hub, said: Catalysis is vital for the UK economy, from new food production to pharmaceuticals. Catalysts speed up chemical reactions making them possible on useful timescales. Catalysis is involved in over 90 per cent of all (industrial) chemical reactions and 85 per cent of all products require a catalyst somewhere in their production. It has a huge impact, socially and economically.

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 and solving global challenges. Catalysis will be critical in issues including sustainability, energy, green fuels, CO2 utilisation and water.

Building on The UK Catalysis Hub's previous initiatives, we 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 address the major challenges faced by the UK through scientific excellence.

Notes to editors:

The UK Catalysis Hub

The UK Catalysis Hub was created with EPSRC funding with the aim to first establish a world-leading, comprehensive and coordinated programme of catalytic science in the UK; secondly to develop new knowledge and promote innovation in and translation of catalytic science and technology; and thirdly to enable the UK to regain and retain its world leading position in catalysis.

The Hub was launched in April 2013 at its physical centre in the Research Complex at Harwell with a program of initial scientific projects starting from July 2013. The initiative has succeeded in all its main aims: it has coordinated and developed the UK catalysis community; it has produced a large volume of published science of high quality; it has gained growing international recognition; and it has established firm and developing relations with industry.

The scientific structure of the Hub was initially built round four main themes: Catalysis by Design; Energy; Environment; and Chemical Transformations, each of which has a theme leader who serves on the management group of the Hub. A fifth theme of Biotransformations was subsequently added.

The initial scientific programme focused on the projects outlined in the original proposal. A key feature of the Hub ethos is that all projects involve multi-institutional collaborations.

The Hub has been highly productive scientifically and its programme has encompassed a very broad range of contemporary catalytic science.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

EPSRC is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. By investing in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation.

Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future UK prosperity by contributing to a healthy, connected, resilient, productive nation.

Reference: PN 66-18