The Science City Research Alliance brought together the Universities of Warwick and Birmingham in collaborative projects in Advanced Materials, Energy Futures and Translational Medicine.
Funding of almost £20m enabled the SCRA Advanced Materials programme to invest in scientific equipment and facilities at Birmingham and Warwick. These were made available to businesses and other higher education institutions, to develop extensive research capability. The universities collaborated on two research projects - 'Creating and characterising next generation advanced materials' and 'Innovative uses of advanced materials in the modern world'.
This programme covered a range of specialist areas in the low carbon landscape focusing on 'New energy technologies for buildings and vehicles' and 'Generation, storage and use of hydrogen'. SCRA invested £17.2m in new equipment and facilities and welcomed businesses of all sizes to access state-of-the-art research and testing facilities and expertise for collaborative research. The universities collaborated on two research projects - 'Energy efficiency' and 'Hydrogen'.
The Translational Medicine programme united the components of advanced equipment and clinical trials in two research projects - 'Clinical research infrastructure and trials platform' and 'Experimental medicine'. A £20m investment enabled SCRA to capitalise on the universities' expertise and research into cardiovascular disease, infection, metabolism, neuroscience and reproduction. This established the West Midlands as a major centre for clinical trials in Europe.
Here are some case studies:
|Advanced Materials||Filta Group used SCRA equipment and expertise to evaluate their oil cleaning product. Read more...|
|Advanced Materials||Hart Materials were able to test the properties of nickel coated graphite, which the company provides to the electronics industry, with SCRA's scanning electron microscope. Read more...|
|Advanced Materials||Particle physicist Dr Yorck Ramachers and condensed matter physicist Dr Gavin Bell are both founding directors of spinout company UVdyne Ltd, developing state-of-the-art ultra-violet light detectors. Read more...|
|Energy Futures||EH Smith made use of the solar energy evaluation and testing facilities at Warwick to evaluate the performance of a range of solar photovoltaic panels. Read more...|
|Energy Futures||Spinout company Recycling Technologies was formed to commercialise the development of a plastic recycling technique developed by Professors Jonathan Seville and Jan Baeyens. Read more...|
|Translational Medicine||Torc2 worked with SCRA to improve their niche splinting and casting applications.
|Translational Medicine||SCRA Fellow Matt Gibson leads a team which develops new biomaterials solutions to the global challenges in regenerative medicine and infectious disease, particularly cryopreservation. Read more...|
|Translational Medicine||David Haddleton is a Professor of Chemistry at Warwick and co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Medherant Ltd, an SCRA spinout bioadhesives company specialising in transdermal drug delivery. Read more...|
More case studies:
Advanced Materials case studies
Xerital, based in Stoke-on-Trent, manufacture sequential barcodes suitable for use at extreme temperatures. They needed to know how their products would perform in extreme conditions. Specifically, they wanted to understand their products' resistance to physical damage, such as abrasion, and impact under adverse conditions including exposure to strong acids and alkalis, organic solvents, ultraviolet light and high temperature.
The University of Birmingham developed evaluation methods, including delaminating using scratch testing carried out with probes of different sharpness and at a range of applied loads. This enabled comparison of the barcodes' resistance to various treatments and identified areas in which the product performed well.
"The work carried out at the University of Birmingham has given us an insight into the services offered by these establishents and the company will look to make greater use of these resources in the future."
Coated Conductor Cylinders Ltd (3-Cs)
3-Cs, based in Malvern, has developed and patented novel manufacturing processes for depositing superconducting thin films onto rotating proprietary cylindrical substrates for the next generation of very high power density electrical machines.
Electric motors, generators, transformers, magnets, and so on, will be more powerful, compact and lightweight. Implications for aerospace and defence are enormous. Wider commercial applications include energy, transport, medical and industrial processing sectors.
3-Cs wanted access to the specialist high-resolution, high-flux configuration of the PANalytical X'Pert Pro Materials Research Diffractometer at the University of Warwick to monitor and optimise key manufacturing processes under development. Dr Phil Hurst, Principal Scientist at 3-Cs, regularly accessed Warwick's equipment and was trained in its use. As a result, this increased understanding of the growth processes required to produce large area superconducting structures.
"We have supported the concept of Science City right from the beginning and now that we have been able to benefit directly from the scheme we have no hesitation in recommending it to any small business needing access to the facilities and expertise at the universities of Birmingham and Warwick.
"Great care was taken by the Business Engagement Manager, Richard Simpson, in understanding our business needs and technical requirements and in making the right introductions. All this was accomplished in short order, and we were able to get on with the job and lay the groundwork for improving our manufacturing processes. It really is a pleasure to deal with such high-quality people and we look forward to collaborating more in the future."
Our researchers worked with Exilica to investigate their particle products as polymer additives. Exilica is a UK University spin-out company based in Coventry, incorporated in 2005 to commercially exploit technology developed by Dr Daniel Lynch, an academic from Coventry University.
Exilica's patented ‘µ-Sq beads’ and hollow silica shells have unique properties that allow encapsulated chemicals to diffuse out slowly. These are ideal for applications in pharmaceuticals, functional textiles and packaging, cosmetics and topical medicines.
Patents for producing particle technologies have been filed internationally and further patents taken out to cover their use as polymer additives. Exilica have successfully secured several development contracts with multinational companies.
Exilica used equipment from the Advanced Materials programme to investigate the surface availability of their particles in a plastic composite structure, using high-powered optical microscope, interferometer and confocal raman microscope.
"It's great to have a variety of high-resolution scientific apparatus, with ease of access, right on our doorstep. We've really appreciated the local availability of SCRA and really appreciate the help they have offered."
Energy Futures case studies
Cubewano is a small, high-growth business based in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham. They design and manufacture small, high quality rotary internal combustion engines.
Cubewano is involved in a collaborative research and development project with the University of Warwick using state-of-the-art optical fuel combustion diagnostic facilities. The project has enabled the company to optimise combustion chamber, ignition and injector spray systems to increase combustion efficiency and enhance their engines' ability to run on kerosene-based heavy fuel oil.
"Upon introduction to Warwick, we soon realised that there was the possibility for a ground-breaking project to actually visualise the flame front and burn within the combustion region of a rotary engine. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that this has been attempted on a rotary engine".
Paintbox UK Ltd
Paintbox is a leading provider of high quality surface finishing, product design and late configuration with sites in Banbury and Birmingham. With over 300 employees, Paintbox has invested over £10m in manual and automated painting equipment.
Paintbox has worked with the University of Warwick through the Science City Research Alliance to refine their processes and techniques. The collaboration includes:
- Interactions with academics from departments of Physics, Chemistry and Engineering
- Part-funding a PhD on developing new photo-voltaic surface coatings
- 3 month PhD student internship via the Midlands Physics Alliance Graduate School scheme
"Most of our European automotive customers are fully engaged with academic institutes and find the UK manufacturers and universities significantly behind in their approach. The collaboration with the University of Warwick and Science City has proved to be hugely beneficial to Paintbox both in specific technology and from a cultural approach to research and development. Paintbox will be working to expand this positive relationship over the coming years."
Paintbox recently won a contract from BMW for the company's prestigious Rolls Royce operation. The contract is worth €100m, will safeguard 100 jobs and create another 50.
The contract was won in competition with companies in Germany. Paintbox believe a significant factor that tipped the balance in their favour was the relationship with the University of Warwick and Science City Research Alliance. Paintbox were able to show BMW the facilities to which it has access through this relationship. In Germany, BMW expect engineering companies to work with universities and benefit from R&D facilities available through such relationships.
Ergohome, a Birmingham-based company, has been working with the University of Birmingham to develop and optimise its structural insulation panels. The panels are used to produce low environmental impact, structurally sound, affordable factory homes.
Through the research project, Ergohome adapted its build to optimise the unit's thermal performance, taking account of actual build performance. They have a better understanding of how different passive energies strategies can be used to reduce energy demand while providing a thermally comfortable living environment all year round.
"The Ergohome has exceeded expectations. Even in -12 degrees centigrade adverse weather, it was possible to heat the home with a single 2kw fan heater. Having an independent body impose rigorous science has delivered empirical data to back up the anecdotal site experience. University support has been key in understanding both the properties of the build material and in measuring the performance of our factory built sustainable home."
United Utilities Water
United Utilities (UU) is one of the UK’s largest water companies and provides water and wastewater services to nearly seven million people in the North West of England, supplying nearly 2 billion litres of tap-water a day. UU’s assets include 22 anaerobic digestion plants where sewage sludge is converted to biogas (methane) which is burned to generate clean sustainable energy. This is used to reduce the energy needed in the sewage treatment processes and has potential to allow export to other users.
Until recent times sewage sludge was considered a waste to be disposed of but today it is recognised as the valuable resource that it is. As well as energy there is scope to recover materials such as phosphorous and other elements some of which are becoming scarce.
UU has teamed up with one the University of Birmingham’s spin-out companies, Biowaste2energy and its associates, Sustainable Resource Solutions, to examine the feasibility of increasing energy generation from waste using the Biowaste2energy process.
The feasibility study concluded that UU could reduce its overall spend on grid electricity by up to 15% while avoiding an estimated maximum of 63 million kg CO2 emissions per year using the new technology. WRAP (the project funder) will be publishing the feasibility report in full in Autumn 2012.
HEINEKEN are a major international brewer which encompasses many popular brands (e.g. Heineken, Fosters, Bulmers cider). Brewers are active in minimising their CO2 emissions, including those from the fermentation process along with the costs for disposal of process wastes (e.g. spent grain or apple pomace). Therefore Heineken teamed up with the University of Birmingham to investigate potential solutions for both these issues.
The University’s school of Biosciences carried out research into potential uses for the spent grain. Researchers found that the spent grain could be treated with hot compressed water to release fermentable sugars and demonstrated efficient biohydrogen production using these new sugars as the raw material. Results using spent grain were subsequently published in the Bioresource Technology journal (2012).
A secondary project looking into brewery CO2 showed that it can provide the carbon source for high-value edible microbes called Spirulina and that Spirulina can share the same space as the hydrogen-producing bacteria using a new ‘beam-sharing’ technique being published in the Biotechnology Letters journal (2012). Before this discovery, the waste-to-hydrogen bioreactor and the CO2-to-foodstuff bioreactor would have to take up separate spaces meaning that less could be achieved on limited available ground area, whereas ‘beam-sharing’ enables an integrated, efficient CO2-abatement and waste-to-hydrogen system.
We set out to investigate how we could reduce and utilise our CO2 emissions in innovative ways. This work showed that the science and techniques were possible. Combining all this together we recognised the further potential for an integrated bioreactor to improve our efficiency and reducing cost. At this early stage further development will be required to bring the bioreactor to market. I am grateful for the expertise in the School of Biosciences accessed through the SCRA Hydrogen Project, which highlighted the exciting potential.”
- Richard Heathcote, Sustainable Development Manager HEINEKEN UK Limited
Translational Medicine case studies
Philips Respironics is committed to providing meaningful innovations that improve quality of care, enhance patients’ lives and enable the delivery of better outcomes at lower cost.
Philips Respironics has engaged with the SCRA Translational Medicine project through the Human Metabolism Research Unit (HMRU) at the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire with whom they have a shared goal to investigate the metabolic effects of obstructive sleep apnoea.
To achieve this goal both institutions have entered into a 12-month study programme led by Dr Tom Barber, Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant Endocrinologist at the University of Warwick and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire.
Dr Tom Barber said:
“We are extremely grateful to Philips Respironics for their generous support of the studies in the HMRU through use of their portable sleep diagnostics equipment. There is increasing data to show that sleep quality and duration are closely linked with metabolic health in humans, including important associations with appetite, weight, blood pressure and risk factors for the development of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. The sleep data generated from the studies in the HMRU will provide novel insights into the complex pathophysiology underlying these mechanisms, and inform the future development of new therapeutics thereby ultimately improving patient care.”
Sarah Hinch, Clinical Manager at Philips Respironics said:
"We are delighted to be able to support Dr Barber in his research into the metabolic effects of obstructive sleep apnoea. This is an important area of research and gives valuable insight into the underlying mechanisms of obstructive sleep apnoea and its links to various co-morbidities’’.
Human Biomaterials Resource Centre
Science City Research Alliance funded a new facility at the University of Birmingham dedicated to human biomaterial collection, storage and distribution of consented high quality biomaterials.
The centre is the first licensed human tissue bank in the region. It is supported by close relationships with regional NHS Trusts, including the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
The centre played a key role in several research awards including:
- MRC/Arthritis UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing
- Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre
- Cancer Research UK stratified medicine programme
Bayer HealthCare is among the world’s foremost innovators in the field of pharmaceutical and medical products. Their mission is to research, develop, manufacture and market innovative products that improve the health of people and animals throughout the world. Their division of Medical Care comprises the businesses with blood glucose monitoring devices and medical equipment for diagnosis and treatment.
In January 2012, the University of Warwick, the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire and Bayer Healthcare agreed to co-fund a study entitled ‘Assessment of Metabolic Profiles in Obese Men with Hypogonadism and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and the Effects of Treatment with Testosterone Replacement Therapy’.
This study is led by Dr Tom Barber, Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant Endocrinologist at the University of Warwick and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire. The principal objective of this study is to explore the effects of male hypogonadism and its treatment with testosterone replacement therapy on metabolic profiles (including resting energy expenditure and post-prandial energy expenditure).
All recruited patients will be assessed in the Human Metabolism Research Unit, which was funded by the Science City Research Alliance.
Dr Barber said:
"Male obesity-associated secondary hypogonadism (MOSH) is a common problem amongst (particularly morbidly) obese men. It is likely that this complication of male obesity has been under-recognised and under-treated in the past. We are extremely grateful to Bayer for funding this HMRU-related study, the aim of which is to explore further the complex mechanisms that underlie the associations between male obesity, hypogonadism and metabolic dysfunction (including Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus), and to assess the effects of testosterone replacement therapy on these parameters. This is an important, timely and clinically-relevant study, the results of which will likely inform future guidelines for the management of MOSH amongst the obese male population.”
Matthew Willis from Bayer Healthcare said:
“Dr Barber’s study is providing valuable research into the field of Hypogonadism and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. We are delighted to be able to support independent research such as this, and look forward to a strong working relationship with UHCW & SCRA.”