UCL Faculty of Arts & Humanities


UCL artist transforms coal waste into paints as part of UCL collaboration

UCL Slade School of Fine Art artist Onya McCausland has developed some paints using waste from decommissioned coal mines, in partnership with the Coal Authority.

UCL artist transforms coal waste into paints as part of UCL collaboration

8 February 2022

The Coal Authority oversees water treatment at former coal mines across the country. This prevents iron solids from entering and polluting local watercourses and drinking water aquifers. But the process also leaves behind 4,000 tonnes of ochre waste a year. 

While studying for her PhD at UCL, Onya saw the possibility of transforming this waste into ochre pigments for use in paint. 

“These pigments and artworks have come into existence thanks to human activity,” said Onya, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Slade. “They're not only beautiful but also highlight the intricate relationship between humans and the way they exploit the local landscape.”

Onya accessed funding from UCL’s Higher Education Innovation Fund, managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise, to develop a business case for developing the paints.  

The partnership that resulted between UCL, the Coal Authority and artist materials supplier Michael Harding has led to a unique line of wall paint and artists’ oil paints being brought to market. The first paint colour in the range is called ‘Six Bells Red’, after the Six Bells Mine Water Treatment Scheme in Wales.

Onya and partners have also engaged with local communities around former coal mines to produce artworks with the paint during the pandemic.  

Onya has been supported on her journey by UCLB, the commercialisation arm of UCL Innovation & Enterprise.

Dr Steven Schooling from UCLB said: “Seeing the Six Bells community painting their environment with this unique paint is a culturally significant moment and a great tribute to UK mining history.”

Read the full story on the UCL Innovation & Enterprise website