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New partnership with Mitsubishi Chemical in the UK to decarbonise the acrylic industry

Monday, 19 July 2021

The University of Nottingham (UoN) and the University of St Andrews are collaborating with Mitsubishi Chemical in the UK (MC UK) on a £4.34m UK Research and Innovation ‘Prosperity Partnership’ to decarbonise acrylic-based materials.

The partnership, which will be led by MC UK, is part of a long-term plan to increase the sustainability of the acrylics industry, with the market for PMMA, the most common acrylic polymer, estimated to exceed $8 billion by 2025.

The project is one of eight business-led Prosperity Partnerships announced today in support of the government’s ambitious new Innovation Strategy. Prosperity Partnerships build on existing UK strengths in industry and academia to develop new technologies, processes, and skills that will deliver economic growth and create jobs across the UK. 

MC UK has had a long-running relationship with the Universities of Nottingham and St Andrews on chemical and biochemical technology development. Innovations from Nottingham have been patented and form significant elements of a current programme to manufacture methyl-methacrylate (MMA), the building block of all acrylic materials, from biological sources.

“Mitsubishi Chemical is excited to work with the Universities of Nottingham and St Andrews on a range of early stage technologies aimed at decarbonising acrylic materials by improving atom efficiency of existing processes, developing biotechnology processes using sustainable feedstocks and selective, energy efficient recycling technologies. Acrylic has a long history of being a highly durable and functionally attractive material. We look forward to working with our academic partners to further improve acrylic’s sustainability as we head towards a net zero future.”
Dr John Runnacles, Business Research Director at Mitsubishi Chemical Methacrylates

About the UKRI Prosperity Partnerships

UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is investing a total of £19m across eight UK-wide projects through its long-running Prosperity Partnerships initiative. Industry and university partners investing a further £40m.

The new Prosperity Partnerships announced bring the total number of partnerships launched by EPSRC to 47 with a total investment of £335m.

That includes £125.2 million from EPSRC and £3.6m from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, also part of UKRI, £167m from industry partners and £39.2m from universities.

The University of Nottingham project focuses on process and product circularity. The aim is to discard less and recover and reuse more, making the manufacturing process more sustainable. Nottingham researchers will use microorganisms to convert renewable feedstocks to the chemical building blocks needed to make acrylic products. Meanwhile, Drs John Robinson and Eleanor Binner will use advanced microwave technology to precisely heat and efficiently recover the valuable chemical building blocks from waste acrylics, thereby reprocessing them instead of discarding them. Using microwaves to depolymerise plastics can reduce carbon emissions and costs.

“Producing chemicals using bio-based processes tends to be more environmentally friendly as such processes can use renewable feedstocks and operate at low temperature and pressure. This research will establish a circular economy in acrylics and aims to be a first-in-class demonstration of 21st century sustainable manufacturing.”
Professor Alex Conradie, project lead at Nottingham

The third side of the Nottingham project, involving Dr Jon McKechnie and Professor Conradie, is to quantify the net environmental benefits and financial viability of the proposed biomass-based production process and product circularity concept.

This will be done using a techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment - at every stage of the project - to better understand the potential contribution of these concepts to net zero emissions targets, and opportunities to produce chemical building blocks for acrylics products from sustainable UK biomass sources.

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More information is available from Professor Alex Conradie on Alex.Conradie@nottingham.ac.uk at or Emma Lowry, Media Relations Manager (Engineering) on emma.lowry@nottingham.ac.uk or 0115 84 67156

Emma Lowry - Media Relations Manager Engineering
Email: emma.lowry@nottingham.ac.uk
Phone: 0115 846 7156
Location: University Park

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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