Northern Powerhouse science plans set out by Chancellor

10 Sep 2014 02:43 PM

Ambitious proposals for a potential major new National Institute for Materials Research and Innovation welcomed.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne today (Wednesday 10 September) welcomed ambitious plans for a potential major new National Institute for Materials Research and Innovation in the north of England.

Chief Scientific Adviser Mark Walport has been considering options for the centre in response to the Chancellor’s speech in June where he called for action to capitalise on the north’s real strengths in scientific innovation and its importance in driving recovery there.

Central to his plan is the opportunity to build on the north’s expertise in materials science – the development of super lightweight, strong and flexible materials that have applications across a range of industries like healthcare, energy or transport.

Recent breakthroughs include safer nuclear fuels that can operate at high temperatures helping to prevent nuclear disasters such as Fukushima; a super strong steel replacement that can operate at extreme pressure allowing access to hard to reach oil and gas reserves; and biodegradable implants that dissolve safely in the body for use in reconstruction surgery – particularly for burns and cleft lip and palate treatment – vastly improving results and reducing discomfort.

George Osborne said:

This is another big step in delivering our plan for the Northern Powerhouse. Science is at the heart of the economic prospects for the north of England. I asked Mark Walport to develop exciting plans – and this proposal is certainly exciting.

It would put the north of England at the centre of the search for the new materials of the future – and bring new jobs and investment as these materials are developed. That’s what the investment in graphene has already proved.

Mark Walport said

I have been working with northern universities to catalyse imaginative and ambitious responses to the Chancellor’s recent challenge. For proposals to be successful in strengthening the UK’s academic and industrial base we must build on our existing excellence in research.

This proposal for a National Institute for Materials Research and Innovation is based in the north but has national scope, integrating strengths across the UK in academia and industry, and must be able to operate at a scale that no one university can achieve alone.

Mark Walport will continue to develop the proposals in consultation with institutions and industry across the country. The final decisions about whether to proceed with the centre will be taken in the Autumn Statement.

Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC)

The Chancellor also today announced that The University of Manchester is to build a £60 million Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC).

Graphene is another example of cutting edge materials science developed in the North. It is a one atom thick pure carbon material that has a range of applications from food packaging that could tell you when your food goes off to drugs that can be delivered to specific cells to bendable mobile phones with enormous battery life.

The Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) will provide facilities so that graphene based products can be fast tracked from the drawing board to the market.

It will be partially funded by £15 million from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), £5 million from Innovate UK (formally the Technology Strategy Board) and £30 million from Masdar, the Abu Dhabi-based clean technology and renewable energy company. The remainder will be sourced by The University of Manchester from available funding schemes including ERDF.

The new centre will complement and build on the UK National Graphene Institute, also located at The University of Manchester and which is nearing completion following nearly £40 million of funding at Budget 2012. Taken together both projects represent a significant investment in graphene technology.

This is a significant success for partnership working between HM Treasury, UK Trade & Investment, the City of Manchester and The University of Manchester in attracting foreign investment to support both UK science and innovation, and regional development.

George Osborne said:

Scientific innovation is at the heart of our long term economic plan and this investment shows we are delivering.

Graphene is potentially a game-changer – its properties make it one of the most important commercial scientific breakthroughs in recent memory. It presents tremendous opportunities with the potential to provide thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of further investment.

This new centre, alongside the National Graphene Institute, has put Manchester and the UK in pole position to take advantage of these opportunities and lead the world in this exciting new technology. We don’t just want to see ‘discovered in Britain’. We want to see ‘made and manufactured in Britain’.

Sir Kostya Novoselov – winner of the Nobel Prize in physics and one of the University of Manchester scientists who isolated graphene, – said:

The Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is the critical step in ensuring that innovative ideas developed in the UK could contribute to economic growth here and worldwide. It will serve as one of the keystones in supporting science, technology and innovation in the UK.

Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), said:

HEFCE’s Research Partnership Investment Fund encourages partnerships between universities and industry for the benefit of the economy and society. It enables universities to address today’s key national and global challenges, and attracts significant additional private sector investment to help fast-track research. To date, the fund has delivered more than £1.3 billion of new funding.

I welcome the funding for the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre. The Centre will exploit and maintain the UK’s world-leading position in graphene and related 2-D materials, and stimulate the acceleration of application research and development – an excellent demonstration of the major contribution that universities make to economic and social prosperity.