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UCL leads research for a circular economy in three UK industries

11 November 2020

UCL is playing a leading role in three out of five new circular economy research centres funded by the UK government to help reduce waste, energy and pollution in UK industries.

Wind turbines. Image: Narcisa Aciko via Pexels

Through £22.5 million of investment, the Government is establishing five UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres to drive sustainability in the textiles, construction, chemical and metal industries.

A circular economy is an alternative to the traditional make-use-dispose economy in which we extract maximum value from resources while in use and recover and generate materials at the end of their life.

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Mineral-based Construction Materials is led by Professor Julia Stegemann (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering) and aims to develop systems and technologies for more efficient use and recovery of mineral resources.

The centre brings together 14 UCL researchers across nine departments through the cross-faculty UCL Circular Economy Lab, CircEL, founded by UCL Engineering and the Bartlett, the UCL Faculty for the Built Environment. In addition to £4.5 million from UKRI, it will be supported by £1.9 million from more than 40 industrial collaborators, and more than £2 million from its university partners.

UCL is also a partner in two other new centres. The UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources is part of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals led by Brunel University London which aims to make the UK the first country to fully circulate metals by 2050.

And the Interdisciplinary Textiles Circularity Centre led by the Royal College of Art is a partnership with researchers at UCL Institute of Education (IOE), UCL Brain Sciences and UCL Engineering’s Department of Computer Science. It is focused on textiles, which seeks to reduce the UK’s reliance on imported and environmentally and ethically impactful clothing materials and develop new “designed and made in the UK” industries.

The UCL partners will co-lead the research strand on consumer experience. This seeks ways to engage people so they move from being consumers to co-creators of a sustainable product cycle.

Co-investigator Professor Carey Jewitt (UCL Knowledge Lab) said: “This centre brings a diverse range of UCL researchers together to generate innovative methods and technologies that can capture consumers’ experience and provide them with more meaningful and sustainable relationships with products and materials.”

Professor Aikaterini Fotopoulou (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences, Faculty of Brain Sciences) said: “What is unique about this centre is that it will bring together expertise and experiences from stakeholders that do not typically work together to make the textiles sector sustainable, including fashion designers, materials experts, consumers, economists and brain scientists.”

Professor Nadia Berthouze (UCL Computer Science), Deputy Director of UCL Interaction Centre, said: “Bringing together a very interdisciplinary team and the involvement of diverse stakeholders and consumers, the centre will drive technological innovation for supporting engagement with new renewable material through the delivery of enhanced and novel sensory experiences.”

Marianna Obrist, Professor of Multisensory Interfaces at UCL Computer Science said: “Understanding consumers and how they experience reused materials will be increasingly important to material circularity and resource flow. The Centre will provide us with the unique opportunity to explore the use of emerging multisensory technologies to engage consumers in digitally immersive experiences and services that amplify couplings between the resource flow, human well-being and satisfaction.”
"This new EPSRC Textiles Circularity Centre will support us to improve inclusion in textile consumer experience throughout co-design of interactive consumer interfaces", said Dr Youngjun Cho (UCL Computer Science).

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres are funded by UKRI through the Strategic Priorities fund, established in 2018.



Image: Narcisa Aciko via Pexels