Advanced materials

The University of Manchester is a global centre of excellence in advanced materials research and we recognise that applications in this critical sector will be essential to the UK’s economic growth and future.

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General Academic Industry Policy

Making a difference

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Advanced materials have the ability to transform the industrial sector and the lives of people across the globe. At Manchester we work closely with both regional and national policymakers to support the application of our world-class research and deliver economic and societal impact by informing the national industrial strategy.

Our ability to form and lead collaborative partnerships with other universities and businesses means we can make transformational differences in key areas.

  • The future of mobility will be shaped by the demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles, yet manufacturers have struggled to develop a battery that is both lightweight and efficient. We’re researching two-dimensional material graphene, which could make batteries lighter, more durable and suitable for high-capacity energy storage.
  • Building lighter vehicles could help us revolutionise the transport and aerospace sectors by reducing fuel use and vehicle emissions. We’re exploring how graphene could be used to reduce the weight of aircraft, improving their efficiency.
  • One of the largest challenges in the composites market is how to reduce the cost of production without affecting the speed or volume of demand. Our work with Cygnet Texkimp developed the first robotic 3D-winding machine set to revolutionise the making of the next generation of cars and planes.
  • As governments across the world focus on clean growth, we’re supporting the UK economy by taking inspiration from nature. We’re leading on the development of the next generation of synthetic biological materials that will support a greener economy.    
  • Society is living longer, but with that comes increased health issues. Our materials scientists are helping bodies regenerate tissue with biodegradable structures to replace missing or damaged body parts. 
  • Nearly one fifth of the world’s population live in areas plagued by water scarcity. Our graphene membrane technology is helping people across the world access clean drinking water.
  • The advanced materials industry needs to become more environmentally sustainable. Manchester is pioneering data-centric materials science and engineering to create a data-driven era of industry.

Global challenges, Manchester solutions

Clean drinking water for millions

Global challenge

Globally, up to 435 million people are taking water from unprotected wells and springs and by 2025 half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. The challenge is to provide safer, accessible and more reliable
supplies of clean water.

Manchester solution

Graphene-based membranes have been described as the perfect barrier. They’re capable of separating two liquids to an exceptional degree and can block even the smallest atom, helium, from passing through. Manchester research will enable future filtration systems to precisely control water permeation – from ultrafast permeation to complete blocking.

Graphene trainers that keep on running

Global challenge

Outdoor runners need footwear that combines heavy-duty grip and wear with lightweight construction. Manufacturers have long competed to find a solution to the demands of customers and the terrain.

Manchester solution

Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan and his team at Manchester worked with UK running brand inov-8 to produce the world’s first range of sports footwear featuring graphene. The 2D material has been used to develop outsole rubbers that are scientifically proven to be 50% stronger, 50% more elastic and 50% harder wearing.

Biomedical materials that rebuild our bodies

Global challenge

Injuries or disease can leave people with significant and lasting physical impediments to daily life, effecting their long-term health and mobility. A priority challenge for biomaterials researchers is restoring biological function with minimum invasiveness.

Manchester solution

New medical approaches to improve human health and well-being are essential for maintaining the UK’s global position in medical technology. Professor Sarah Cartmell and her team at Manchester are developing biomaterials systems to help patients replace damaged or missing biological structures, essential for their health and mobility. By creating a biodegradable device called a scaffold they can guide tissue regeneration, such as a bone piece or layers of cartilage.

Revolutionising the manufacture of next-gen cars and planes

Global challenge

Growing populations and climate change are challenging vehicle manufacturers to find, sustainable solutions to our travel needs. They increasingly need new processes to produce lighter, cheaper and more adaptable materials.

Manchester solution

Cygnet Texkimp, a leading machinery manufacturer for the global aerospace and automotive sectors, teamed up with Manchester robotics and textile composite specialists to find a way to create complex components cost-effectively, in high volumes, and at high speeds. Building on a concept developed by Professor Prasad Potluri, the partnership produced the world’s first robotic 3D-winding machine, which could revolutionise manufacturing of next-generation cars and planes.

Rethinking our relationship with plastic

Global challenge

Plastic waste is a global problem. It’s estimated that 40 billion tons of plastic waste will be in the Earth’s system by 2050.

Manchester solution

Professor Michael Shaver heads a new Manchester-based initiative called RE3 – Rethinking Resources and Recycling – which is working with industry and academic partners to address technological and societal issues around plastic. His vision is to tackle the plastic challenge with breakthroughs in materials science and collective social responsibility.

Preventing corrosion

Global challenge

Globally, corrosion costs more than $2.5 trillion a year. Despite this large economic impact, the fundamental processes of corrosion are poorly understood and industry relies on field experience for its management.

Manchester solution

Researchers led by Dr Brian Connolly at the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials, based at Manchester, are working collaboratively to understand the fundamental processes that initiate corrosion. This research will lead to the development of improved strategies to prevent corrosion and ultimately increase the reliability and lifespan of pipelines in the oil and gas industry.

Developing the materials of the future

Global challenge

Advanced materials could help solve some of the world’s most critical problems, but we need to accelerate the discovery and development of new materials systems to bring economic and societal benefit to the UK.

Manchester solution

Manchester has a strong tradition of stimulating economic growth and industrial innovation. We’re home to the Henry Royce Institute, the UK’s national institute for advanced materials research and innovation, bringing together the brightest minds from across the UK, including world experts from the universities of Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial, as well as the National Nuclear Laboratory and the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Accident-tolerant nuclear fuel

Global challenge

The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in 2011 highlighted a challenge with the zirconium alloy used to make fuel rods. At the very high temperatures generated when coolant is lost, this particular alloy reacts with steam to produce explosive hydrogen gas.

Manchester solution

Researchers at Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute are developing fuel solutions that are much more tolerant to prolonged excessive temperatures. Our Zirconium Group is leading MIDAS, a large project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, to increase understanding of the metal, enabling its safe use as a primary cladding material in nuclear reactor systems.

Our work with policymakers

Leaders from Manchester’s advanced materials community work with and inform decision-makers in key regional, national and global bodies, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and globally, such as MIDAS, Manchester’s inward investment agency, and the UK’s Department for International Trade.   

Manchester’s expertise has been clearly reflected in a series of strategic visions and policy documents that will help shape our nation’s future.

Impact through collaboration

Our track record for research power is reinforced by an impressive capital and research investment, with around £400 million invested in Manchester’s campus-based advanced materials research community. For example, more than £195 million has been invested into graphene and other 2D materials, including the creation of the research-focused National Graphene Institute and the business-facing Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre.

Another £105 million is creating the soon-to-open hub building for the Henry Royce Institute, the UK’s national body for applied innovation in advanced materials based in Manchester. The University is also home to the $100 million BP International Centre for Advanced Materials, which works with partner universities to develop a fundamental understanding of materials science that can be applied to solve challenges for BP and the energy sector.

Our unique facilities support the University’s vision to create an advanced materials community called Graphene City. Made up of scientists, engineers, innovators, investors, manufacturers and industrialists, this community will build a thriving knowledge-based economy.

I believe the approach taken by Manchester is truly pioneering, partly because of the collegiate way we work with other research teams across the University’s diverse materials science community – but also by the way we engage and work with civic leaders and policy-makes at both a regional and national level.

Professor Sarah Cartmell / Professor of Bioengineering