imgThe SCHEMA Hub will train the next generation of postdoctoral researchers in sustainable chemicals and materials manufacturing


The University will lead a new Sustainable Chemicals and Materials Manufacturing Research Hub 

Published: 22 May 2024


Share this article

The University of Oxford is leading a major UK government investment in research to improve the sustainability of chemical and polymer production. The Sustainable Chemicals and Materials Manufacturing Hub (SCHEMA) will bring together researchers from across the UK working with a large consortium of commercial, technology translation and civic partners. The Hub has been funded by £11 million from the UKRI Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and leverages a further £22 million in funding from its partners.

schema map graphic

The SCHEMA Hub will be led by OBE FRS from the University of Oxford’s Department of Chemistry, and will involve academics from Chemistry, Engineering, Materials Science, Computation, Environmental Economics and Law at the Universities of Oxford, Bath, Liverpool, Cardiff, York and Cambridge (Shown, Right).

Professor Williams said: ‘It is imperative that the chemical industry reaches net zero emissions and sustainability as so many essential downstream industries depend upon it. Our Hub will be well placed to tackle this difficult challenge by bringing together a very wide range of academic expertise with companies from across the supply chain.’

The research focusses on transforming the way chemicals and polymers are designed, made, and recycled. This includes supporting the transition away from the use of virgin petrochemicals and redesigning processes and materials to increase recycling rates. A key focus will be to design processes that can produce chemicals and polymers from renewable raw materials such as biomass, carbon dioxide, and even industrial wastes, and integrating renewable energy into the process engineering. This will build upon the University Oxford’s research on transforming carbon dioxide and biomass wastes into plastics, elastics, adhesives, and coatings

The research teams will work across the fields of sustainable chemistry, process engineering, polymer materials science, and digital technologies. A key aim is to leverage recent developments in computation and information technology to design future materials that are both functional and fully sustainable, embedding principles of circular economy and end-of-life management.

Within SCHEMA, researchers will work with a range of partners including businesses, catapults, professional societies, and international academic partners to tackle the shared materials design and sustainability challenges of important end-use sectors. These partnerships will enable sustainable chemicals and polymers to be designed for immediate use within key sectors including electronics, transportation, energy generation and storage, construction and fast-moving consumer goods.

At launch, the team are supported by 25 companies from across the supply chain and representing polymer and material end-users.

Professor Williams added: ‘Supply chain partnerships are at the heart of SCHEMA. Our success will also rely on strong advocacy and engagement. Our prior success working with major national and international bodies will be used to support joined-up policy, legislative, and economic environments for the technologies developed in SCHEMA.’

The Hub seeks to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of major international efforts to transition to sustainable chemical manufacturing. The research program will train a new generation of postdoctoral and early career researchers to take on leadership roles in UK sustainable chemical manufacturing.

Chemical manufacturing is crucial to the UK’s economy. It is the UK’s second largest manufacturing industry, directly employing over 140,000 people and delivering turnover exceeding £75 bn/yr . However, there is an urgent need for this industry to tackle the environmental impact from both manufacturing and its products. Greenhouse gas emissions from the global sector are significant, with it currently accounting for approximately 5–6% of emissions, which is 2–3 times larger than the global airline industry . Coupled to this are the challenges of raw material being sourced from fossil fuel extraction and refining; pollution in water and soil; and globally low rates of polymer recycling.