GSK and University of Nottingham collaborate to create Centre of Excellence for sustainable chemistry

Sir Andrew Witty and Professor David Greenaway at Jubilee Campus
26 Apr 2012 15:40:00.000


GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and The University of Nottingham today formalised a collaboration to establish a new laboratory to accommodate a Centre of Excellence for sustainable chemistry, and to construct an innovative carbon neutral sustainable chemistry laboratory. This agreement represents progress on GSK’s ‘green chemistry’ commitment first announced in 2010.

The GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry will be based on the University’s Jubilee Campus and its construction is being supported by a £12m grant from GSK.

The laboratory will be a Centre of Excellence for sustainable chemistry and will focus on research that is of particular relevance to the pharmaceutical industry and which complements established expertise at the University of Nottingham. It will also deliver advanced undergraduate teaching and outreach to the wider scientific community to embed sustainable chemistry principles in the next generation of scientists.

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The Centre of Excellence will serve as a global hub to catalyse new collaborations with other institutions and industry partners and will bring together leading UK academics, postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers and GSK chemists, developing expertise in sustainable chemical synthesis.

The focus on sustainability will be reflected in the building itself, which will incorporate the latest technologies to allow it to be carbon-neutral over its lifetime. The laboratory will be built from natural materials and energy required to run the laboratory will be met by renewable sources such as solar power and sustainable biofuel. Excess energy created by the building will provide enough carbon credits over 25 years to pay back the carbon used in its construction.

Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK said: “The carbon neutral laboratory will help affirm the UK as a global hub for the future of the life-sciences industry. Our vision is that the science researched within the laboratory will be as iconic as the building itself. This is an opportunity to invest further in science in the UK, re-think how we approach the drug discovery process and play a role in contributing to environmental stewardship.”

Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham, said: “This development will be transformational in several dimensions: the built form will break new ground in sustainable construction; the Centre of Excellence will shape the future of drug discovery; and innovation in training and development will accelerate the translation of discovery to application. This is all tremendously exciting and will underpin a unique partnership between GSK and the University of Nottingham.”

Today’s announcement builds on GSK’s environmental strategy announced in 2011, with an objective that the company’s operations will become carbon neutral by 2050. Adopting sustainable chemistries from the start of the drug discovery process will help to reduce the impact of both the discovery and subsequent manufacturing of drugs on the environment, whilst optimising the use of increasingly scarce natural resources. GSK will also fund a research programme to gather information on aspects of the carbon neutral laboratory that could be transferred into the existing GSK estate to increase efficiency, reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “This new laboratory is an excellent example of collaboration between universities and industry. It shows how businesses can benefit from the knowledge and expertise of our world leading research base and will help keep us at the very forefront of life sciences.”

GSK’s donation is a key contribution to the University’s fundraising campaign, a five-year drive to raise £150m, launched in October 2011. ‘Impact: The Nottingham Campaign’ focuses around the five themes of Sustainable Futures, Health & Wellbeing, Ingenuity, Nurturing Talent and the Nottingham Experience.

The University of Nottingham is renowned for its scientific excellence, with a broad portfolio of chemistry-based degree courses. GSK has a number of existing relationships with the University including providing support through postgraduate chemistry studentships, delivering a medicinal chemistry module to third year undergraduate chemists and offering opportunities for fourth year MSci project students to participate in live GSK research programmes. The University continues to provide GSK with high quality chemists for industrial placements, graduate and postgraduate roles.

Christopher Moody, Sir Jesse Boot Professor of Chemistry at University of Nottingham, said: “The carbon neutral laboratory is an outstanding opportunity to put in place an innovative new research training framework and develop an ethos for sustainable synthesis that will be unique in the UK. We will investigate new methods to address problems in synthetic chemistry, whilst building a greater awareness of the environmental impact of choice of solvents, reagents and procedures.”

Construction of the laboratory will begin in the spring of 2013 and it is expected to be completed during 2014. It will be one of the first laboratory buildings designed to Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) ‘Outstanding’ standard, and will be located on the University’s Jubilee Campus – an exemplar of brownfield regeneration, with buildings that demonstrate best practice in renewable energy technologies and environmentally-friendly design. 

Sir Andrew Witty will make the official announcement about the carbon neutral laboratory at 12.00 on Thursday 26 April when he visits the University of Nottingham. He will also carry out the official opening of the new Engineering and Science Learning Centre on campus at 16.00 and give a public lecture at 17.30pm.

- Ends -

Pictured above (l-r): Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, and Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham.

IMAGES of the Carbon Neutral Laboratory are available from

University of Nottingham Enquiries: Professor Christopher Moody, School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 846 8500,; or Tim Utton, Deputy Director, Communications, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 846 8092.

GlaxoSmithKline Enquiries: UK Media enquiries: David Mawdsley +44 (0) 20 8047 5502; Catherine Hartley +44 (0) 20 8047 5502; Sarah Spencer +44 (0) 20 8047 5502; David Daley +44 (0) 20 8047 5502.

'Carbon neutral' in this context means that the entire carbon footprint of the laboratory – from the materials used in construction and the energy consumed during occupation, to eventual demolition and restoration of the site – will make no overall contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon neutral laboratory construction will include natural materials with very low embodied carbon and is designed to minimise energy consumption during its operation. What energy is needed will be ‘renewable’ and generated onsite using solar power and sustainable biofuel. The total energy generated will exceed what is consumed, creating enough carbon credits over the building’s life to pay back the embodied carbon used in construction. The longer the building remains in use, the more CO2 is saved.

The carbon neutral laboratory combines new technologies with well-understood principles around heat, light and air movements to create a building that works with the elements, rather than fighting them:

  • 70% reduction in embodied carbon compared with conventional new build 
  • captures wind for ventilation 
  • powers itself from the sun and sustainable biofuel 
  • collects rainwater, nurtures wildlife and merges with the natural landscape 
  • when not in use, becomes ‘dormant’, using the minimum amount of energy and storing heat
  • as the building becomes occupied and work begins, it ‘wakes up’ and starts to consume energy.

Scientific discussions between the University of Nottingham and GSK have identified key aims for the Centre of Excellence that will be established at the carbon neutral laboratory to:

  • provide a focal point for forging strategic partnerships with other institutions and the UK pharmaceutical industry and create a global hub to attract postdoctoral and visiting researchers wishing to develop expertise in sustainable chemistry, supporting both the University’s and GSK’s commitment to develop international talent
  • create a research culture for the 21st century chemist in which optimising sustainability is a key competence for all chemists and the understanding of new ways of working for minimum carbon impact are transferred back to into pharmaceutical research laboratories
  • develop innovative synthetic routes for more sustainable chemistries and sustainable routes to key synthetic starting materials of high value to life sciences
  • build greater awareness of the environmental impact of choice of solvent, reagents and procedures and optimise the use of scarce resources such as metals in synthetic chemistry
  • monitor and evaluate the new processes used in sustainable chemistry research.

Key elements of GSK’s environment strategy include:

  • a commitment to a long-term goal for company operations and the value chain to be carbon neutral by 2050. This target means there will be no net greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal of products and the sourcing of raw materials
  • interim targets to reduce GSK’s overall carbon footprint by 10% by 2015 and 25% by 2020
  • target set to reduce GSK’s operational water consumption by 20% by 2015 and to reduce waste to landfill from operations by 25% by 2015 and to zero by 2020
  • delivering sustainable operations with financial benefits – the company estimates it can save £100m per annum by 2020 through reduced energy, materials and distribution costs.

GlaxoSmithKline – one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies – is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer. For further information please visit

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has 40,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘the world’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2011.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news

Story credits

Professor Christopher Moody, School of Chemistry, The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 846 8500,
Tim Utton

Tim Utton - Deputy Director of Communications

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8092 Location: University Park

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