Sheffield University engineers to help major manufacturer eliminate fossil fuels in its supply chain

8th September 2020

Engineers from the University of Sheffield will help one of the world’s leading manufacturers of cleaning and laundry products remove fossil fuels from its supply chain under a new initiative announced on Wednesday (2nd September 2020).

Professor Peter Styring - an renowned expert in carbon capture and utilisation from the University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering - has developed a long-term strategic partnership with Unilever to accelerate the company’s deployment of carbon dioxide utilisation commercialisation.

After collaborating with Unilever since 2018, Professor Styring and his team’s research will help the company’s new Clean Futures strategy, which aims to change the way some of the world’s most well-known cleaning and laundry products are created, manufactured and packaged. The strategy aims to embed circular economy principles into both product sourcing and manufacture at the scale of global brands to reduce their carbon footprint.

Most cleaning and laundry products available today contain chemicals made from fossil fuel feedstocks, a non-renewable source of carbon. The chemicals used in Unilever’s cleaning and laundry products make up the greatest proportion of their carbon footprint - 46 per cent across their life cycle. 

By transitioning away from fossil fuel-derived chemicals in product formulations, the company will unlock novel ways of reducing the carbon footprint of some of the world’s biggest cleaning and laundry brands. Unilever expects this initiative alone to reduce the carbon footprint of the product formulations by up to 20 per cent.

As part of the initiative, Unilever is funding research, development and innovation in biotechnology, CO2 and waste utilisation, and low carbon chemistry to help drive the transition away from fossil fuel derived chemistry.

The Styring Group at the University of Sheffield will advise on suitable technologies for consideration and will work on Life Cycle and Techno-Economic Assessment (LCA-TEA) of suitable processes. 

Included in the partnership are a number of personnel who will deliver the research programme. Professor Styring as Principal Investigator will lead the programme supported by Katy Armstrong, who has been appointed as a Research Assistant, along with two new fully-funded PhD research students. 

Recent chemical and biological engineering graduates Alex Newman and Ed Platt, who graduated from Sheffield with First Class MEng degrees, started their PhD programmes in July 2020.

Professor Peter Styring, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at the University of Sheffield, said: "This is a very exciting time for carbon dioxide utilisation and building a circular economy for the chemicals industry. It has been a pleasure and a revelation working closely with the Home Care Team and beyond at Unilever and we are sure that this is just the start of a very long relationship. Unilever is leading the drive towards sustainable consumer products. Once the government realises that industry is serious about recycling carbon dioxide into value added chemicals, I am sure that support to accelerate these key technologies will be forthcoming."

Dr Ian Howell of Unilever says of the strategic partnership with the Styring Group: “Unilever has been partnering with the Styring Group at the University of Sheffield since 2018 to develop our Clean Future -  Carbon RainbowTM - Carbon dioxide utilisation strategy. As the founders of CO2Chem, the group are recognised as thought leaders in CO2 utilisation and are pivotal in helping us to choose the technology routes we should pursue, informed by their globally recognised leadership (e.g. as part of the Global CO2 Initiative) in Techno Economic and Life Cycle analysis applied to CO2 utilisation.”

Professor Strying’s research group at the University of Sheffield founded CO2Chem - an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Grand Challenge Network that brings together researchers, industrialists and policymakers from across a wide range of disciplines to further the utilisation of carbon dioxide as a feedstock for the manufacture of chemicals, minerals and fuels.

The University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering is ranked number one in the UK for research environment and is in the top five in the UK for chemical engineering output, according to the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF).

The department is a major contributor to tackling the key challenges of this century - climate change, energy poverty, affordable medicines, sustainable agriculture and water use, safety and green manufacturing. Its rich environment for learning prepares students at Sheffield to be 21st century scientists and engineers, with disciplines spanning:

 

  • particle science and technology/nanotechnology
  • new energy technologies
  • the environment and applications of post-genomics bioscience for biotechnology
  • bioprocessing applications

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