Net Zero Chemicals Landscape

Connecting the UK’s growing Chemicals community with industrial collaborators, research-base expertise, investment opportunities and funders.

Innovate UK KTN believes that given the ambition for Net Zero and the drive towards a Circular Economy, there is a need to act now to develop new value chains for chemicals from alternative feedstocks so that the UK can lead in Net Zero chemical manufacturing.

So where are our strengths in capability for developing these chemical feedstocks of the future?

To better understand the UK opportunity, Innovate UK KTN has analysed our capabilities – across the research base, in scale-up, and our innovator community – for developing the process technologies that will be needed to produce chemicals from alternative feedstocks in a Net Zero world by 2050.*

We have identified 38 academic centres of excellence, networks, hubs and Research & Training Organisations (RTOs) that have capabilities in the core technology areas key to developing alternative feedstocks-to-chemicals. 10 of these organisations have access to pilot-scale facilities. Innovate UK KTN has also identified 46 innovators (SMEs, start-ups) who are actively developing key process or enabling technologies that could play a role in enabling the manufacture of chemicals from alternative feedstocks.

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Based on our analysis, we see capability strengths and opportunities in a few key pathways, but in particular the first two:

  • Carbon Capture and Utilisation in combination with hydrogen
  • Syngas as a vector to produce chemicals
  • Upgrading of low-carbon fuels into low-carbon chemicals
  • Biomass valorisation
  • Valorisation of waste plastic

So what’s next? How do we develop these opportunities?

As a first step, we would like you to review our Capability Maps and tell us what we are missing. We will be writing more detailed articles on each of these opportunities over the coming months and inviting you to contribute to workshops to help build innovative projects in these areas. The goal here being to stimulate investment or funding, so keep an eye out for notices of new events in forthcoming newsletters.

But hold on, my technology/organisation is missing from the Capability Maps?

We have populated this Capability Map based on our current knowledge & network, focusing on the process technologies that we think are going to be critical in a Net Zero world. We appreciate that we haven’t covered all technologies. For instance, chemical recycling of critical raw materials will be incredibly important as we become ever more reliant on these materials for our energy needs. We have also not undertaken an in-depth analysis of all that can be offered through industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology processes, nor have we gone into detail on all of different combinations of process technologies (continuous flow, spinning disk reactors, photochemistry, electrochemistry) that could help reduce the overall energy use and environmental impact associated with making chemicals. All of these technologies and processes will have an important role to play!

We have also kept our map of academic capability focused on centres of excellence, networks and hubs only, rather than individual researchers or research groups. If you think we have missed your organisation or missed a key technology, we want to hear from you! Please contact Dr Sheena Hindocha or Dr Peter Clark.

* This activity has been undertaken as part of a project sponsored by our partner Innovate UK and in response to Activity 5B of the Chemical Sector Energy Efficiency & Decarbonisation Action Plan which was to “map existing UK research expertise, centres and areas of strength in relation to innovation development and scale-up relevant to the key decarbonisation technologies identified in the innovation mapping work”

** This analysis was informed by a desktop assessment of key centres of academic excellence, academic hubs & key academic networks, RTOs and innovators within our network. We also interviewed individuals at 14 experts from academia and RTOs to gain a more in-depth understanding of their expertise. We also ran a competition to identify Top Innovators in this area, allowing us to better understand their innovation challenges and capabilities.

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