Work being done in the UK aims to increase sustainability and reduce waste.

A clear acrylic screen found in shops and businesses around the world to help slow the spread of COVID-19
Image: a clear acrylic screen found in shops and businesses around the world to help slow the spread of COVID-19

26.07.2021 – Mitsubishi Chemical in the UK (MC UK) has announced a £4.34m UK Research and Innovation ‘Prosperity Partnership’ collaboration with the University of Nottingham (UoN) and the University of St Andrews to decarbonise acrylic-based materials.

The partnership is part of a long-term plan to increase the sustainability of the acrylics industry, with the market for PMMA, the most common acrylic polymer, estimated to exceed $8 billion by 2025.

Prosperity Partnerships build on existing UK strengths in industry and academia to develop new technologies, processes, and skills that will deliver economic growth and create jobs across the UK. The project is one of eight business-led Prosperity Partnerships announced in support of the UK government’s new Innovation Strategy.

MC UK has had a long-running relationship with both UoN and the University of St Andrews on chemical and biochemical technology development. Innovations from UoN have been patented and form significant elements of a current programme to manufacture methyl-methacrylate (MMA), the building block of all acrylic materials, from biological sources.

“Mitsubishi Chemical is excited to work with the Universities of Nottingham and St Andrews on a range of early stage technologies aimed at decarbonising acrylic materials by improving atom efficiency of existing processes, developing biotechnology processes using sustainable feedstocks and selective, energy efficient recycling technologies. Acrylic has a long history of being a highly durable and functionally attractive material. We look forward to working with our academic partners to further improve acrylic’s sustainability as we head towards a net zero future” said Dr John Runnacles, Business Research Director at Mitsubishi Chemical Methacrylates.

About the UKRI Prosperity Partnerships

UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is investing a total of £19 million across 8 UK-wide projects through its long-running Prosperity Partnerships initiative. Industry and university partners investing a further £40 million.

The new Prosperity Partnerships announced bring the total number of partnerships launched by EPSRC to 47 with a total investment of £335 million.

That includes £125.2 million from EPSRC and £3.6 million from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, also part of UKRI, £167 million from industry partners and £39.2 million from universities.

The UoN project focuses on process and product circularity. The aim is to discard less and recover and reuse more, making the manufacturing process more sustainable. Nottingham researchers will use microorganisms to convert renewable feedstocks to the chemical building blocks needed to make acrylic products. Meanwhile, Dr John Robinson and Dr Eleanor Binner will use advanced microwave technology to precisely heat and efficiently recover the valuable chemical building blocks from waste acrylics, thereby reprocessing them instead of discarding them. Using microwaves to depolymerise plastics can reduce carbon emissions and costs.

“Producing chemicals using bio-based processes tends to be more environmentally friendly as such processes can use renewable feedstocks and operate at low temperature and pressure. This research will establish a circular economy in acrylics and aims to be a first-in-class demonstration of 21st century sustainable manufacturing” said Professor Alex Conradie, project lead at UoN.

The third side of the Nottingham project is to undertake a techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment at every stage of the project, optimising the economic feasibility of the process development and reducing the environmental impact.

About Mitsubishi Chemical in the UK

Mitsubishi Chemical’s UK-based operations consist of three Mitsubishi Chemical Methacrylates sites (the global Methacrylates Division of Mitsubishi Chemical and the world’s largest MMA/PMMA producer), as well as the Electrolyte, Soarnol and Specialty Polymers & Resins Divisions.

In everything we do, we work towards the sustainable well-being of people, society and our planet Earth – we call this KAITEKI.

Learn more about Mitsubishi Chemical Methacrylates at www.mcc-methacrylates.com

About the University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia – part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide Sports University of the Year twice in three years, most recently in 2021. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner – locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic

About the University of St Andrews

Founded in the 15th century, St Andrews is Scotland’s first university and the third oldest in the English-speaking world. Teaching began in the community of St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland in 1410 and the University was formally constituted by the issue of Papal Bull in 1413. 

The University of St Andrews is one of Europe’s most research-intensive seats of learning; over a quarter of its turnover comes from research grants and contracts. It is one of the top rated universities in Europe for research, teaching quality and student satisfaction and is consistently ranked among the UK’s top five in leading independent league tables.

The University is the UK University of the Year in The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2020. The 2020 Guardian University Guide ranked the University as top in Scotland and the second in the UK behind Cambridge. 

For additional information, please contact:

Mitsubishi Chemical Methacrylates

Scott Neal

Corporate Communications Officer

+44 (0)1642 735066

[email protected]

University of St Andrews

Christine Tudhope

Senior Communications Manager

+44 (0)1334 467320

+44 (0)7526 624 243

[email protected] 

University of Nottingham

Professor Alex Conradie

Head of Group for Sustainable Process Technologies Research Group, Faculty of Engineering

+44 (0)115 748 6451

[email protected]

Emma Lowry

Media Relations Manager (Engineering)

[email protected]

+44 (0)115 84 67156