Cranfield University is leading a research consortium examining how the foundation industries can grow and develop while helping achieve the net zero 2050 environmental targets.

TransFIRe (Transforming Foundation Industries Research and Innovation hub) was developed in response to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) call to transform the foundation industries, namely: chemicals, cement, ceramics, glass, metals and paper. These industries produce 75% of all materials in the UK economy and are vital for the UK’s manufacturing and construction industries. 

Together, foundation industries are worth £52 billion to the UK economy and produce 28 million tonnes of materials per year, accounting for about 10% of the UK total CO2 emissions. 

The UK Government wants to make these industries more internationally competitive, to secure jobs in these industries and help them grow. UKRI through the ISCF has allocated £4.7 million for three years to work with universities, research organisations and industry, led by Cranfield University, to assist with technology development and transfer, new business developments and new opportunities in materials and technologies to help to achieve the net zero 2050 target.

TransFIRe is a consortium of 20 researchers from 12 institutions, 49 companies and 14 non-governmental organisations related to the sectors, with expertise across the foundation industries as well as energy mapping, life cycle and sustainability, industrial symbiosis, computer science, AI and digital manufacturing, management and business, social sciences and technology transfer. 

TransFIRe is led by Professor Mark Jolly, Director of Manufacturing at Cranfield University and includes investigators from Bangor, Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds, Northumbria, Sheffield Hallam and York universities and the British Geological Survey.

This programme will develop a self-sustaining hub of expertise to support the foundation industries' transformation into non-polluting, resource-efficient, modern, competitive businesses, working in harmony with the communities in which they are situated, providing attractive places to be employed with unparalleled equality, diversity and inclusion performance.

Professor Mark Jolly, Director of Manufacturing at Cranfield University, said: “The foundation industries play a vital role in the UK economy but there is so much more we can do to help them grow and develop into cleaner and more sustainable businesses. With progress in AI and digital manufacturing there is a real opportunity to transform these industries through the implementation of new technologies. 

“For too long, the foundation industries have been dismissed as too difficult to clean, too difficult to modernise and too difficult to diversify. TransFIRe shows that the commitment is there from academia, industry and Government to take on those challenges and transform the foundation industries that have for generations played such a vital role in the UK economy.”

Bruce Adderley, Challenge Director of UKRI’s ‘Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge’, said: “The research hub represents a crucial step forward in addressing innovation in these industries, by introducing a more collaborative environment to share knowledge and experiences.

“There are so many opportunities, challenges and processes that cross over between the different foundation industries, so having a central resource to pool ideas and solutions can help remove some of the inefficiencies and hurdles to innovation that exist in different parts of the sector.”

Energy Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said: “We are determined to tackle climate change and make it win-win for both our planet and our economy. Today’s major cash boost – targeted at our most polluting industries - will encourage the rapid development of the technologies we need to reign in our emissions and transition to a green economy, one that reduces costs for business, boosts investment and create jobs.

“Just six months ago, the Prime Minister set out a clear ten-point plan for creating and supporting up to 250,000 British jobs as we level up and build back greener from the pandemic. Today we’re boosting our armoury for the fight against climate change and backing innovators and businesses to create green jobs right across the United Kingdom.”

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.