UCL East


UCL Manufacturing Futures Lab attracts nearly £7m in investments

1 March 2024

Only a few months after opening, the team at UCL’s Manufacturing Futures Lab (MFL) on our UCL East campus is already celebrating multiple grant awards totalling in the region of £7m.

Two people in white lab coats with UCL on them at a work bench with equipment in a hi tech laboratory environment

These investments will help reduce our reliance on raw materials made from fossil fuels and help ensure the chemicals, materials and pharmaceuticals essential for our daily lives come from renewable sources.

Professor Gary Lye, who is Director of the Manufacturing Futures Lab, has helped bring together staff from four UCL departments – Biochemical, Chemical and Mechanical Engineering plus the Department of Chemistry - to design and operate new laboratory and workshop spaces on the upper floors of our Marshgate building. These areas are also home to six MSc programmes, ranging from nanoscale and digital manufacturing technologies to the manufacture of cell and gene therapy products.

Meet the Manufacturing Futures Lab(MFL) team

As with all research centres on our new campus, the MFL team is taking multidisciplinary teaching and research to new levels as they focus on new processes and products across a range of industry sectors. This in turn has already attracted research grants totalling nearly £7m with further investments expected to be announced.

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UCL MFL grants awarded to date include:

UCL and multinational partner Unilever to lead a consortium of seven business-academic research partners, sharing in an investment of more than £4m; Prof Alex Conradie will head up UCL’s role in a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Prosperity Partnership project designed to deliver bio-based solutions to challenges such as increasing the sustainability of personal care and washing products through innovation in the raw materials and manufacturing of surfactants

An Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) sustainable manufacturing grant, led by Prof Gary Lye in collaboration with the other MFL Leads (Prof Asterios Gavriilidis, Prof Manish Tiwari, Prof Helen Hailes) and Prof Paola Lettieri, Pro-Provost UCL East). This will explore making products from the plant cell walls of sugar beet pulp to help overcome our reliance on petrochemicals; this £1.4m award could result, for example, in biodegradable plastic bags, surface coatings and alternative low-calorie sweeteners.

The Preventing Plastic Pollution with Engineering Biology (P3EB) Mission Hub aims to tackle the urgent environmental challenge of plastic pollution and create new ways for the sustainable deconstruction of synthetic plastics as the UK transitions towards a circular plastics economy. The hub will be led by Professor Andrew Pickford from the University of Portsmouth, with support from scientists from seven leading UK institutions, including UCL co-investigators: Professor Helen Hailes (UCL Chemistry), Dr Jack Jeffries (UCL Biochemical Engineering), Professor Mark Miodownik (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Professor Paola Lettieri (UCL Chemical Engineering), Dr Andrea Paulillo (UCL Chemical Engineering), Dr Brooks Paige (UCL Centre for Artificial Intelligence), Professor Christine Orengo (UCL Biosciences). 

A UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship for Dr Emily Kostas; this long-term funding over seven years and worth £1.3m will enable Emily to undertake her project SEACONOMY: Integrated Manufacturing and Biorefinery Research for Building the UK’s Seaweed Bioeconomy, helping her create a research group at the MFL that is dedicated to solving the engineering, bioscience and societal challenges to scale up seaweed biorefineries in the UK.

Several grants won by MFL early career academics, including equipment grants, that will help accelerate the MFL’s research in sustainable manufacturing; the most recent of these is a Royal Academy of Engineering Transforming Systems through Partnerships grant awarded to Dr Max Besenhard, Director of the  Digital Manufacturing of Advanced Materials programme, which will see £50k of funding shared equally between UCL and Hashemite University in Jordan to address Low-Cost Manufacturing and Formulation via Sustainable Automated Reactor Platforms.

Prof Gary Lye, Director of the UCL Manufacturing Futures Lab, said:

“It’s an exciting time and I’m grateful to all the UCL colleagues and partners that have trusted us and given us the freedom to build our vision. Now we’re fully staffed we’re starting to see the benefits of the multidisciplinary collaboration between teams and individuals from different departments.

“From my point of view as Director, it’s been fantastic to see everyone coalescing and really rewarding to see the successes - in particular for the early career researchers who are making the most of what the MFL and our UCL East campus have to offer.

“We’re getting great feedback from students using our facilities too, especially the teaching wet labs which are purpose-designed for really innovative teaching. They’re enjoying the many areas around campus for project working and independent study too.

“Overall, I’m certain that this is just the beginning and I’m expecting more exciting announcements soon. We can’t wait to see what the future holds as we build up our collaborations and networks internally and externally and help to make an impact on some of manufacturing’s biggest challenges.”

Skills, industry and community engagement

Alongside research and groundbreaking degree programmes, the MFL is also focused on skills development more generally within manufacturing, both in terms of recruiting more students into the manufacturing space and by supporting people already within the industry who want to keep their skills up to date. This is an area where it is hoping to attract further investment.

Reaching different audiences and exciting them about the production of foods and drink and other products such as medicines is also high on the agenda. Which is why the MFL also features a dedicated microbrewery facility led by Dr Michael Sulu from UCL Biomechanical Engineering

As well as a valuable teaching aid, the brewery will form part of the public engagement and outreach activities at the MFL, helping to embed our new UCL East campus in the local community, offering people of all ages opportunities to bring their knowledge and skills to create and learn with us.

Dr Michael Sulu said:

“The microbrewery links all the engineering disciplines with arts, humanities and social and historical sciences to enable learning from our surrounding community, and working with a variety of stakeholders, to preserve the past, discover the present and define the future of food and drink production.”

Look out for updates on the UCL MFL and all our UCL East campus research centres across 2024.

Visit the UCL Manufacturing Futures Lab website