Victrex and The University of Manchester, with the help of the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry (KCMC), have started a project to produce a monomer raw material in a more sustainable way. The eventual aim is to reduce waste and energy use.
UK-based manufacturer of high-performance plastics, Victrex, states it has instigated this project in response to an increasing requirement for monomer raw material and a desire to be more sustainable. The idea is to create less waste in the production of the raw material, providing a higher purity that is more environmentally friendly and energy and resource efficient. This issue presents a significant challenge for Victrex and the industry as a whole.
Victrex initially looked to manage the project internally, but states it saw value in having external expertise to support the process.
Dr John Grasmeder, Technical Director at Victrex, said: “Whenever Victrex is thinking of new products and processes, the first people we speak to are the KCMC. Their Knowledge Managers have an excellent awareness of academic capabilities at UK universities and have a strong industry focus. Some academic institutions are more blue sky, but because KCMC works closely with industry, they get what industry is about – the need to access expertise to address commercial urgency.”
The KCMC helped Victrex identify the value that could be added by the organic chemistry and chemical engineering departments at The University of Manchester. Grasmeder adds: “The KCMC also helped coordinate a work programme across departments, something which can sometimes be challenging.”
At the same time, the Technology Strategy Board opened a funding call for Sustainable Manufacturing for the Process Industry. Victrex and The University of Manchester jointly applied for and were awarded funding for a feasibility study.
A detailed planning stage has now started. Victrex is investing in capital equipment that will be used in the university department and Manchester is identifying a qualified individual to carry out work. The feasibility study will last for nine months.
If successful, the next stage will be to take from lab (working in grams) to the industrial pilot plant (working in kilograms). This will present additional scale up challenges due to the quantities of materials used, the need for bespoke equipment and the scalable differences relating to heat transfer.
The overall business objective is said to be to improve quality and security of supply. It will also improve product consistency and bring opportunities in new applications that can be used across the whole portfolio of products.
Grasmeder concludes “Reducing waste is one of the universal goals of the materials chemistry industries. No one has ever tried this approach before, but if it works it will be a huge boon to our business. These are exciting times.”