Resource efficiency

No new proposals will be coded to this area and it will no longer appear as a discrete area in EPSRC's taxonomy.

Discussions with members of the research community, and a review of grants coded to the research area have indicated that Resource Efficiency is a driver for research rather than a standalone research area. This is further exemplified by the fact that of all the research proposals submitted to EPSRC which include Resource Efficiency, it is always a secondary area to another portfolio. All current grants in this area will remain active.

As a driver, resource efficiency and sustainability is reflected in the rationales of appropriate research areas. The majority of research areas already reference resource efficiency but the following will be updated: Chemical Biology and Biological Chemistry; Energy Storage; Engineering design; Functional Ceramics & Inorganics; Operational Research; Polymer Materials; Process Systems: Components and Integration; and Synthetic biology. Other areas such as Materials engineering – Metals and Alloys already reference Resource Efficiency in their rationales.

Using the Earth's limited resources in a sustainable way. This research area underpins much of the sustainability agenda and, for EPSRC, it includes the engineering aspects of: designing out or minimising waste; making processes more efficient; developing the circular economy; an end-of-life value and whole-systems approach to materials and resources; pollution, landfill and environmental research. It is often defined by the 'seven Rs': Recover, Reduce, Replace, Reuse, Remanufacture, Redeploy and Recycle.

The main focus for the current Delivery Plan period will be to examine Resource Efficiency's role within our Outcomes Framework, identify any research needs within our Research Themes and develop an action plan to meet them. We will seek to:

  • Support research to further develop life-cycle analysis and other techniques required to analyse and measure resource efficiency
  • Encourage the linking of the UK's research strengths in complexity science, operations research and mathematics to Resource Efficiency research
  • Encourage linkage of Resource Efficiency research in the fields of engineering and physical sciences to appropriate areas supported by other Research Councils, Innovate UK and other research/innovation funders, to facilitate interdisciplinary approaches and so enable real-world take-up

Sustainability research is well embedded in the UK research system and the breadth of this area presents challenges in assessing quality. Waste minimisation and product design research are UK strengths and this contributes to more rational use of materials. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has selected three UK universities (out of six worldwide) as pioneers in the circular economy, demonstrating the UK's global leadership in this area (Evidence source 1).

The Circular Economy Strategy published by EPSRC in December 2015 (Evidence source 2). working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other research initiatives, has built a strong case to create a business model for valuing waste. A European Strategy, meanwhile, aims for a 70% reduction in the amount of waste produced by 2030 (Evidence source 3).

United Nations sustainability goals published in 2015 pinpoint Resource Efficiency as a key target globally. There are strong UK government drives through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which have helped to make the UK population very conscious of the need to be smart in the way we treat waste (Evidence source 4).

This research area is of significant industrial interest, with companies from diverse sectors actively engaging in Resource Efficiency research & development. The High Value Manufacturing Catapult also has a strategy focusing on Resource Efficient and Sustainable Manufacturing (Evidence source 5).

This is a relatively small portfolio, mostly funded through our Manufacturing the Future Theme and embedded within many other research areas. Mapping current investment in this area shows there is distributed capacity across areas such as Bioeconomy, Manufacturing, and Waste Management.

Twenty-five Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) have sustainability as one of their objectives, developing postgraduate capability to work in this field. Two of the centres, concerned with Sustainable Materials and Sustainable Manufacturing, are particularly pertinent to this research area.

This research area has a role in all of EPSRC’s Outcomes and particularly relevant to the following Productive and Resilient Nation Ambitions:

P3: Establish a new place for industry that is built upon a 'make it local, make it bespoke' approach

This can benefit, for example, from whole-systems modelling of the circular economy and interdependencies.

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

This can be aided, for instance, by the use of robotics in remanufacturing products/infrastructure for recycling.

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

This can benefit from development of lightweight materials for transport use and minimising use of rare earth metals.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

Using new life-cycle and whole-systems analysis tools can contribute to this.

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

Materials substitution, recycling and reuse can all contribute to this.

R5: Build new tools to adapt to and mitigate climate change

This can benefit, for example, from replacing carbon-intensive processes and materials.

  1. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Pioneer Universities, (2015).
  2. EPSRC, Manufacturing a Circular Economy: A Position Statement on Circular Economy Research in the UK (PDF), (2015).
  3. European Commission, European Strategy for a Circular Economy, (2015).
  4. All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group, Driving Resource Efficiency across Supply Chains, (2016).
  5. High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Strategy on Resource Efficient and Sustainable Manufacturing, (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.

Evolved Portfolio

No new proposals will be coded to this area.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Resource Efficiency (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Shyeni Paul
Job title: Manager
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444431