Perspectives: End Point

U.K. Invests in Advanced Chemical Products

A new research center aims to bridge innovation with industrial manufacturing.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

U.K. research into developing advanced chemical products has received a boost following chancellor George Osborne's March 28 announcement that he is adding 22 more Centers for Doctoral Training (CDTs) around the country.

CDTs are designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists in high-tech research and manufacturing. As part of the government's £500-million ($837-million) investment, 91 CDTs already have been established. The advanced chemical products CDT, which won a £7-million ($12-million) slice of this money, will be based at University of Leeds, Leeds, and be known as the CDT in complex particulate products and processes. The money will fund 50 new research students.

"Advanced formulated chemical products are worth more than £200 billion ($335 billion) a year to the U.K. economy and are used in a wide range of sectors, from advanced drugs and protecting crops through to the toiletries we use," says professor Simon Biggs, of the university's Faculty of Engineering, who led the bid. "Our center will be working across the whole supply chain, whether that's discovering new materials, getting these things on the manufacturing line or delivering them to consumers."

The government money, allocated by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), will provide more than half of the center's funding, with the remainder coming from the university and industrial partners.

Companies backing the CDT include the multinational consumer goods company Procter & Gamble, agrochemical developer Syngenta, petroleum additives manufacturer Infineum and major drug companies GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

"This is not just about researchers sitting in their labs formulating clever materials. One of the problems in research is that a molecule might be ideal in theory but it may be impossible to manufacture it at scale and at a cost that can be supported by the market. We are going to be training researchers who can see the whole picture. An engineer looking at manufacturing problems will need to understand the limitations and restrictions of the chemist. The chemist will need to engage with the production line and the market. They will work in cross-disciplinary teams. The focus is on developing people who can go out there and continue the U.K.'s leadership in this field," Biggs notes.

One key area of work is micro-encapsulation, which allows active ingredients in products such as drugs, agrochemicals, foods, cleaning products and toiletries to be better targeted.

"Think about chemotherapy. It kills cancer cells but it also kills off a lot of good tissue. If we can encapsulate those active ingredients on the micro-scale, so that they are only released on the cancer cells, we could give you a lot less drug and be better at targeting the cancer. We might also be reducing the cost of the drug because we need a lot less active ingredient," Biggs explains.

Other applications include micro-capsules that slowly leak active ingredients in pesticides, protecting a plant over an extended period, or micro-packages that preserve active ingredients in cleaning products so they remain effective after months in the supply chain.

The CDT will involve academics from the university's School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; Chemistry; Design; Food Science and Nutrition; and Business School.

Research students will be recruited from backgrounds including chemical engineering, chemistry, physics, material engineering, product engineering and product design.

The course includes four modules covering creativity, innovation and teamwork; chemical product design; particle product manufacturing; and a particle product design project. Participants will be expected to develop their skills in core technologies including particle design and synthesis, colloidal dispersions, particle characterization, process flowsheets, product formulation, unit operations, process design and scale up. The first cohort of 10 PhD students will start work in October.

The other 21 CDTs will be based at universities around the U.K. and will focus on subjects such as the advanced characterization of materials, integrating sensing and measurement, sensor technology applications and formulation engineering.

"We have been working hard with universities and partners to ensure that as many centers as possible can be supported. The CDT model has proved highly popular with universities and industry and these new centers will mean that the U.K. is even better placed to maintain the vital supply of trained scientists and engineers," says professor David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC.


ottewell.jpgSeán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net

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