Sustainability research projects boosted by new EPSRC grant funding

Researchers from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering have secured funding for projects looking at sustainability in soil stabilisation and the steelmaking industry.

Dr Jags Pandhal
Dr Jagroop Pandhal of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Research projects focused on sustainable soil stabilisation technologies and novel methods of carbon capture have been awarded new grant funding by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The projects, which involve or are led by academics based in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, are part of 77 total projects across the UK which are being supported by the £15 million investment from the EPSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation, through the New Horizons programme.

In one of these projects, researchers led by the department’s Dr Jagroop Pandhal will look at reducing the environmental footprint of steelmaking by creating a new method of capturing the carbon dioxide emitted.

While steelmaking is critical to our lives - from the cars we drive to the buildings we live in - its environmental footprint is huge; each blast furnace has the same carbon footprint of around 350,000 people and it is thought to consume 8% of the world’s energy.

This new project will use micro algae, inspired by a mega-algal bloom, which followed wildfires in Australia.

These algae would be ‘atomised’ into aerosols and tested to determine whether they can be used to capture carbon without the prohibitive costs currently associated with other processes of carbon capture.

“I’m really excited about getting this ambitious project started. It's not just about a new approach to capture industrial CO2 emissions, it’s about biologically activating aerosols, an idea that has far reaching possibilities in environmental remediation and resource capture.” Dr Pandhal said.

Meanwhile, a second project, which is led by the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, working in collaboration with Dr James McGregor from our department and an academic in Chemistry, is to look into the development of more sustainable soil stabilisation technologies, with a need to adapt to climate change, flood risk and sea-level rise.

The project aims to use naturally sourced biopolymers such as chitin, which can be derived from crustaceans, insects or mushrooms, as an additive to strengthen soils, while addressing challenges around water resistance and biodegradation.

“This funding allows us to develop a genuinely interdisciplinary approach involving civil engineers, chemical engineers and chemists to tackle a problem of significant environmental concern,” Dr McGregor said.

“We are looking at major challenges in infrastructure and development but doing so by designing solutions from the molecular level upwards. This approach has the potential to deliver transformative change in the sector, in line with the objectives of the New Horizons funding programme.”

The programme - which trialled a streamlined application process to deliver a faster process compared to current standard funding routes - aims to fund projects that involve high risk, speculative engineering or information and communication technologies research with a potentially transformative impact.

It previously funded over 100 projects in 2020. EPSRC is now to conduct further evaluation on the first two rounds of New Horizons funded projects and make an announcement on a further round in due course.

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