Process systems: components and integration
This research area focuses on the design, operation, modelling, control and optimisation of chemical, physical and biological bulk-product processes that are conducted continuously or repeatedly. The area encompasses research concerned with different components (e.g. process chemistry/biochemical processes, reactor design/engineering, separations, membranes etc.) and their integration into a new or existing process/plant. This might involve taking a holistic approach to the design, modelling and operation of a whole system or plant, or consideration of individual components/operations within it. This research area also includes associated fundamental understanding of the operation of the components/system and their dynamics (e.g. reaction engineering). Research in this area is central to addressing current and future national challenges related to sustainability and resource efficiency.
In view of the important role this research area plays in underpinning the current and future success of the UK economy, we will maintain support for it as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.
To ensure a balanced portfolio, we have considered this strategy alongside the broader chemical engineering portfolio (including the Complex Fluids and Rheology, and Particle Technology research areas). Throughout the Delivery Plan period, we will work with the community to focus on collaboration across the chemistry and chemical engineering interface, identifying opportunities for multidisciplinary research that delivers against the Prosperity Outcomes and Ambitions in our Delivery Plan. Opportunities may exist to link to the Engineering Grand Challenge addressing 'Engineering across Length Scales, from Atoms to Applications.
The growing number of chemical engineering undergraduates, arising from strong industrial demand, means student training remains highly relevant in this research area and across the wider chemical engineering portfolio. We will work with the chemical engineering community to explore and address any concerns over academic leadership and the balance of support across all career levels.
Industry continues to have a vital role, not only in translating fundamental academic research but also in defining commercially sensible and measurable targets for step-change improvements. Working with key stakeholders to strengthen links in this portfolio would be highly beneficial.
Throughout the Delivery Plan period, the community should work across chemistry, chemical engineering and manufacturing disciplines to link discovery with process and manufacture. Interdisciplinary working will allow smart approaches to challenges which cross traditional boundaries. This connected working will strengthen the chemicals continuum and help develop an appropriately skilled workforce for the relevant sectors.
Encouraging integrated approaches to the design of (bio)chemical products and processes continues to be a key priority.
This research area plays a key role in maximising the opportunities presented by new and emerging platform technologies (e.g. Synthetic Biology), for which scale-up will become an increasingly important issue. The process engineering community should seek to develop links to such emerging areas to help maximise their potential.Highlights:
This area remains strategically important to the UK, underpinning a number of industrial sectors (e.g. chemical, pharmaceutical and food). It plays a vital role in scaling-up discoveries made in the chemical, biological and physical sciences, delivering new or improved products and processes for the chemical and chemistry-using industries.
There is extremely high potential for impact on the UK economy through development of more sustainable/economical processes for UK industries; chemical and pharmaceutical businesses in the UK contribute £75 million of Added Value every working day (£20 billion a year) to the UK's Gross Domestic Product (Evidence source 1).
Significant investment has been made to help produce a suitably skilled workforce through Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) with clear links to this portfolio (e.g. Bioprocess Engineering Leadership, Sustainable Chemical Technologies, and Catalysis), while investments such as the Catalysis Hub also link strongly to this area.
Clear links exist across the EPSRC portfolio. Key interactions include the following research areas: Complex Fluids and Rheology, Particle Technology, Catalysis, Chemical Reaction Dynamics, Carbon Capture, Storage and Utilisation, and Bioenergy.
Links to Manufacturing the Future are hugely important as the field develops whole systems and processes suitable for industrial use.
This research area could have a potentially significant contribution towards the Productive Nation, and will also contribute to the Resilient Nation. In particular there is potential to make strong contributions over the short, medium and long term to the following Ambitions:
P2: Ensure affordable solutions for national needs
Technology and processes developed and implemented through this research area are vital to ensuring the sustainability and economic viability of UK industries (e.g. chemical, pharmaceutical and food).
P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy
Through its focus on process scale-up and manufacture of products, this research area has the ability to contribute significantly towards the development of a sustainable, resource-efficient society.
R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency
This research area has the opportunity to address energy security, (e.g. through the development of sustainable fuel production or development/scale-up of new processes to enable use of new sustainable feedstocks.
R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably
For example developing whole-systems approaches to continuous or batch industrial processes. Optimisation through such approaches will be key to supporting this ambition.
- Chemical Industries Association (CIA), UK Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industry Facts and Figures 2014 (PDF), (2014).
- Learned Society Balancing Capability Workshop (February 2016).
- Chemical Industries Association skills, (2015).
- Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Bridging the Skills Gap in the Biopharmaceutical Industry (PDF), (2015).
- QS, Chemical Engineering Department Rankings 2015/16.
- A.T. Kearney, Chemical Industry Vision 2030: A European Perspective (PDF), (2012).
- NNFCC, Industrial Biotechnology Process Plant Study (PDF), (2015).
Research area connections
This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.
Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
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EPSRC support by research area in Process systems: components and integration (GoW)
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