Actually, it’s simpler- and less technical- than that. The Advanced Materials team at Innovate UK spends its time looking at the intersection of materials, functionality and process.
Cheaper to produce
So, we might fund a project developing a new higher-strength, sustainably-sourced carbon fibre. This might enable composite materials to be made stronger, thinner and take less time (i.e. be cheaper) to produce.
New way of recycling
In the past, we have funded a project led by Jaguar Land Rover looking at using recycled aluminium alloys to make cars. The project developed an alloy that is strong and light, but can be cost-effectively sourced from recycled metal. This also meant they had to develop a new way of recycling the metal.
And of course, we do invest in graphene- such as a project using graphene as a conductive ink in flexible electronics. The consortium formulated graphene into an ink which can be printed onto plastic substrates using existing large-scale printing technology.
We want projects that add value
These examples show the space in which the Advanced Materials team are most excited to work:
areas where there is a problem that innovation in materials can not only help solve, but will also add value to the final application.
Vast and varied stakeholders
This means our stakeholders are vast and varied:
- academics with wonderful new materials they’re wondering what to do with
- component and device-level producers looking for new functionalities and higher specification products to keep them ahead of their competitors
- Tier 1 suppliers keen to improve their bottom line by doing something better and more cheaply
- big industry players who are looking at challenges a decade or two ahead
Underpinning many sectors
Advanced Materials contribute to many sectors, from aerospace to chemicals production to electronics - it underpins nearly 1/3 of all UK manufacturing, and the market for value-add materials is set to increase from €100bn in 2008 to €186bn in 2020 and €316bn in 2030.
Enabling innovation everywhere
But those numbers don’t take into account the reality that innovation in materials enables innovation everywhere else.
Would Amazon’s business model work as well as it does if Li-ion batteries didn’t provide small, lightweight, high power density storage that meant we could shop anywhere from personal devices?
Imagine if all the “stuff” that makes up your world had more than one use and more than one lifetime:
- if the structural frame of buildings could also generate or store energy and could be recycled and re-used
- if the next generation hip replacement material was not only perfectly biocompatible but would actively mould itself to your body and give health updates on your joints
Investment in materials impacts almost all sectors, and the high-value sectors have the most to gain from cutting-edge research being translated into products.
Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lien-ngo-90a23b35
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