These Challenges are interlinked and innovation in one area can be facilitated by innovation in another. Consequently, the Chemistry Council Innovation Working Group has developed four innovation themes addressing one or more of the Grand Challenges:

  • Advanced Materials and Molecules
  • Green Supply Chains
  • Energy Storage and Distribution
  • Digitisation and Big Data

Within these themes the Innovation Working Group has focused on identifying programmes for which there is a clear market opportunity and societal benefit, and where the chemistry sector can have direct impact on delivering economic value to the UK.

The Innovation Working Group has consulted with multiple companies, universities and relevant societies on these sub-programmes.

Demands on products are rising, both in terms of functionality but also environmental profile, and new advanced materials and molecules must be designed to meet societal needs. Developing a healthy pipeline of new, innovative materials that are renewable and sustainable is at the heart of the Chemistry Council Innovation Strategy.

The global market for advanced materials is substantial, estimated at US$42.8bn (2015) and is forecast to grow at a rapid rate of 10.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), increasing to $102.48bn by 2024. This presents a significant opportunity that relies on innovative new materials and molecules being defined, designed, manufactured and formulated into end products. Generating a strong pipeline of innovative and sustainable materials will enable new products and features to be created and delivered to a wide variety of end markets.

The Chemistry Council Innovation Working Group has identified five key programmes in this theme, which together address many of the Challenges outlined in this document:

  •  Sustainable Materials for Consumer Products

Facilitating the circular economy, this programme seeks to create materials with recyclable and/or biodegradable properties, or that are produced using sources that can be regenerated. Sustainable materials are required for a wide range of end markets, from fuels, coatings, agriculture and home and personal care. High priority markets have been identified in consumer products. Meeting increasing consumer demands for renewable but high performance products will deliver both societal and economic benefit and materials to be addressed have already been identified. New sustainable raw materials, new sustainable manufacturing routes and delivering a cradle-to-cradle approach to managing products through their lifecycle are all features of this sub-programme.

  •  Sustainable Packaging

The desire to move to sustainable packaging and the elimination of single-use plastics, in particular for consumer products, is a global trend. Ensuring robust but sustainable packaging requires new product innovations but also requires the same cradle-to-cradle approach to managing products through the cycle from raw material to waste material. This programme will be supported by the delivery of new recycling technologies, addressed in programme (Waste to Feedstocks). The UK packaging market alone is estimated to be worth £11bn.

  • Advanced Materials for Health & Well-being

Advancements in chemistry continue to be important in the medicinal area. In addition, this programme seeks to focus on exploiting the UK’s building capability in biotechnology and biocatalysts. Opportunities to create new energy and cost-efficient pathways to existing materials is the target. The UK currently has around 225 companies in this sector, generating around £2.9 bn of revenues. Currently ranked 8th globally in biotechnology continuing to build the UK’s capability and focusing on translating knowledge across the sectors represented within the Chemistry Council will support revenue growth.

  •  Advanced Materials for Composites

Materials define the core functionality of a composite. Utilising new materials, such as graphene, and designing new multifunctional materials and additives for composites will support other key sectors of the UK economy such as aerospace, automotive, and construction.

  • Formulation of the Future

Formulation is the complex science of creating the finished products, often from multiple ingredients with competing characteristics. It is a critical underpin to delivering a wide range of products such as cosmetics, food and drinks, pharmaceuticals and coatings. The market is sizeable, with the global market estimated at US $1 T.

The UK already has significant core capability in this area – both academically and industrially. Within the universities there are a number of Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) in Formulation. The SCI and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) support the translation of the knowledge from academia into industry and significant investment has been made to address scale-up with the Materials Innovation Factory at Liverpool University and, more recently, the Chemistry Council-sponsored investment in scale-up facilities at the CPI National Formulation Centre. Recognising the infrastructure that has been built, this programme is seeking to utilise all existing infrastructure more effectively in order to accelerate the commercialisation of final products in the UK.

Collectively these programmes stretch across all end markets, from aerospace and automotive to life sciences and consumer goods. Consequently, innovation in chemistry and biotechnology across these programmes would accelerate growth in numerous sectors adding significant value to the economy.

For the UK to address the Clean Growth Grand Challenge, innovation will be required to create greener supply chains creating a closer connectivity between different industries. Innovative approaches will reduce, reuse and recycle waste at all stages in the supply chain and new sustainable feedstocks need to replace unsustainable feedstocks. The community represented by the Chemistry Council is uniquely placed at the forefront of the move to building greener supply chains. It sits at the heart of many industrial supply chains and can deliver technologies to enable the recycling and re-use of waste streams, and consume certain recycled waste as new feedstocks, thus facilitating a cradle-to-cradle approach.

We have identified two key programmes to support the move to greener and more sustainable supply chains:

  • Waste to Feedstocks

There is a significant opportunity to not only create economic value from key waste streams, but also greener supply chains. Three waste streams have been identified as offering the biggest potential for value added recycle and re-use, these being plastics, steel, and precious metals. This sub-programme will seek to assess how to access the waste streams, the technologies required to recycle these waste streams and the potential for the companies to utilise the recycled materials back into valuable and sustainable raw materials.

  • Industrial Symbiosis and Resource Efficiency

Resource efficiency is already a strong focus for many companies with consideration for all the resources used through the manufacturing process to delivery of the end product. The Chemistry Council Innovation Working Group is seeking to accentuate this focus on resource efficiency by supporting companies to ensure resource efficiency within their own organisation and support cross-company and cross-sectoral collaboration to recycle and reuse by-products and waste streams, known as Industrial Symbiosis. This approach has been championed in the UK by Ineos, working with partners in other industrial sectors to share resources that would otherwise have been considered as waste.

Collectively these sub-programmes will lead to a reduced use of landfill and unsustainable raw materials and will give the UK manufacturing industry access to new sustainably sourced raw materials. This theme has economic, environmental and societal benefits to the UK.

In order to power our homes and transport more cleanly and efficiently, innovative chemistry-led solutions will deliver the products and infrastructure to enable the move to more efficient and low-carbon energy storage and distribution systems. Innovation in chemistry underpins the Clean Growth and Future of Mobility Grand Challenges.

The global market for energy storage is forecast to grow to US $7-10bn by 2025 and a potentially larger market could be available if a hydrogen economy is developed. Disruptive innovation is needed if the UK is to cease the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and realise the economic and environmental opportunities from electric vehicles.

For these reasons, two key programmes have been highlighted as priorities for chemistry innovation under this theme:

  •  Enabling the Hydrogen Economy

Using hydrogen as an energy carrier would provide a new source of low carbon energy. However, for a hydrogen economy to be developed effectively, innovative new technologies which can efficiently and inexpensively derive and process the hydrogen will be required. This programme will seek to work with the Chemistry Council Regional Working Group and other organisations involved in developing hydrogen economies to address some of the technology hurdles that will need to be addressed in order to create commercially viable hydrogen economies.

  •  Advanced Materials for Batteries

Current battery technology is limited, so vehicles dependent on this technology do not match the performance of those powered by an internal combustion engine. Chemistry innovation is needed to develop new materials such as the core anodes and cathodes. Increased battery performance to address issues of capacity, charging speed and lifetime will ensure that a future with electric cars becomes a reality. This programme will seek to work with existing infrastructure, such as the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, to produce the new materials needed to manufacture viable electric cars to replace current fossil fuel-based vehicles.

Demand for lithium is rising rapidly and new sources will be required to meet accelerating demand. The UK has natural lithium resources both in the ground and in the sea, as lithium is present in high concentrations in the North Sea aquifers. Technology capable of extracting lithium from seawater is not yet at commercial scale, and innovations are required to improve the efficiency of the extraction techniques to potentially allow the UK to tap into this market opportunity whilst securing a strategic raw material.

The adoption of digitisation and big data will generate a step-change in productivity and could precipitate the creation of new business models. Innovations in this area are being taken up by industry, with 80% of 360 chemical companies reporting an increase in investment in digital technologies for plants, in particular on plant management and product quality. The Innovation Working Group believes that there is significant untapped potential in this area, as outlined in the Made Smarter Review.

Three programmes have been identified under this theme:

  •  Digitisation of Supply Chains

Incorporating digital technology throughout the supply chain would allow industry to manage products throughout its supply chain, improving product traceability and providing efficient cash-flow management. This sub-programme seeks to establish the future potential from digitising supply chains.

  •  New Process Technologies

The sector has had a long record in developing and commercialising new processes and is constantly seeking innovation in process design. The adoption of new process technologies such as continuous flow technology will provide a step-change in capital cost, materials management and throughput, whilst new process technologies such as 3D printing create the opportunity to create new business models such as personalised products and localised manufacture. This programme is focused on accelerating the use of continuous flow techniques across different processes and on delivering the opportunities presented by 3D printing.

  •  Big Data in Design

Big data is already used within the pharmaceutical industry for molecular design. Its application could be an important underpin to accelerating innovation in other sectors, in particular where complex design is required. This programme will assess the potential for big data to be used in other applications.

Together, the development and application of these technologies will help the Chemistry Council accelerate innovation into industry for the benefit of society.