Innovation UK > News > Innovation UK Vol4-1 > Innovations in materials deliver value for money

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Innovations in materials deliver value for money

The huge purchasing power of the public sector can provide a powerful incentive for business to innovate and develop new products, processes and services.

Advances in materials add value to the procurement process (including lifecycle considerations, design and manufacture) when considered within all the existing procurement initiatives, eg sustainable construction. Advances in most technology areas can be linked to developments in materials. The UK has a strong tradition in materials developments which have been continuously supported by both public and business investments in R&D.

Better linking of innovative procurement with technology is led by the Technology Strategy Board, which fund Knowledge Transfer Networks (KTNs), such as the Materials KTN, and Innovation Platforms. Both schemes provide an opportunity to bring business and government closer together to generate more innovative solutions to major policy and societal challenges, along with better coordination of policy, regulation and procurement.


Materials that support clean technology are critical to developments in improving the performance of conventional energy production and distribution and in ensuring the viability of new, renewable energy technologies such as wind power, fuel cells and solar energy. Developments in materials for construction and the built environment are important to improve productivity and to help the industry meet the challenges of energy efficiency and the zero-carbon agenda.

For example, the UK has a strong position in innovative glazing, such as switchable (chromogenic) glazing which varies the transparency of the glazing to automatically control light and heat transfer, and transparent insulating materials that allow the passage of light. The UK?s strong position in architectural glass has achieved widespread acceptance of double glazing. Innovative glazing, in particular e-glazing, promises to drastically reduce the amount of heat loss in a building. Public procurement can be used to accelerate the pull through of this innovative approach to thermal management in buildings, thereby contributing to the reduction of CO². Also, there is a rapidly growing global industry in solid-state lighting, such as semiconductor light-emitting devices and laser-based lighting. This will have a significant impact on energy efficiency, consuming much less energy for lighting.

The UK?s large transport industry demands lighter, safer and more electric vehicles. New materials developments are critical to having a sustainable low-carbon transport. Across a variety of information technology and digital applications, the UK leads the way with key developments in materials. For example, organic (plastics) electronics facilitates the creation of inexpensive, flexible devices, and the integration of electronics with fabrics.


Antibacterial Hospital Gowns

Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI) can cross infect patients orally through particulates (dust mites can carry MRSA) and by physical transfer of organisms between members of the hospital environment.

Various scientific studies have identified that uniforms play a major role in cross-infection. This applies not just to nursing staff but also ancillary cleaning staff where uniforms often carry infection both ways between patient and carer. It is believed that infections are also transferred across fabric bed partitions, curtains and carpets. In other words the many fabric surfaces and also other surfaces and materials within the non-sterile part of the hospital environment can be the major contributor to HAIs. Fibres of simple natural and synthetic materials often provide an excellent host environment for organisms.

As a priority therefore, the Materials KTN, through its technical textiles and design activities, is tackling the materials-related incidence of HAI by working with business to develop antimicrobial clothing and surfaces for healthcare applications.


There are new materials available to meet the growing need for biomaterials and biomarkers to manage and monitor serious clinical conditions over the longer term. There are advances in materials that prevent or minimise microbial cross-infections, eg the use of technical textiles to control the spread of MRSA in hospitals.


There is huge scope for innovation and development in nanotechnology, which pervades all areas of materials. Significant progress has been made into responsible research into the application and use of nanomaterials, particularly for prolonging the lifetime of products, reducing waste and enabling energy harvesting and efficient use.


The concept of engineering materials and structures which sense and respond to their environment has led to a considerable effort worldwide to develop new and existing applications using these higherfunctionality materials. As many natural materials succeed in fulfilling more than one function, there is a growing interest in materials research in drawing inspiration from biology known as biomimetics. It cannot be emphasised enough that multifunctional materials are the essential ingredient of sensor and diagnostic technologies. These materials are important for tackling national and personal security issues. For example, materials offer new ways of preventing counterfeiting of products and preventing other crimes. They can be used for ?bio-tags? and biometric products. There are opportunities to develop materials for miniature sensors, systems that rapidly scan luggage and travellers, and for sensors in clothing and baggage that facilitate detection of dangerous substances.


Consultation on procurement of prison mattresses

The Materials KTN was there when Her Majesty?s Prison Service put out a consultation regarding the procurement of prison mattresses. With a rising prison population, in excess of 60,000 units are needed annually.

The foam material utilised for the mattress is formulated to provide a high level of fire retardance; however, this causes significant problems for product recycling. The prison service created a consultation exercise with the target of achieving zero mattress landfill waste by 2012. The Materials KTN organised an ideas workshop at the Royal College of Art in London involving materials scientists and the design community, including representatives from manufacturing and government.

A full report on the solutions and ideas generated by this workshop was provided to Her Majesty?s Prison Service and has helped in setting the specification for the short, medium and longer term requirements for recyclable prison mattresses.


The Materials KTN is developing a programme of activities to support UK government efforts to increase the level of procurement professionalism by improving skills within a more flexible and higher-profile Government Procurement Service (Transforming Government Procurement, January 2007). The KTN has over 7,500 members, a large number of whom are designers and materials scientists, that it would like to mobilise to build on its support for innovative public procurement. The KTN has cut its teeth on a recent consultation by Her Majesty?s Prison Service on the procurement specification for more recyclable prison mattresses.

The experience has convinced the Materials KTN that it can do more to support. Apart from running ideas generation and specification workshops, it is considering opportunities for designers or materials technologists to join public procurement teams on short-term secondments (two to three months) to support the drawing up of procurement specifications.


Helping designers to visualise materials more clearly

The Materials Resource Centre has over 1,000 materials in stock. The Centre has gained the full support of materials producers and developers and has extensively engaged the design community. There are plans to make the Resource Centre the repository for all recycled/re-used materials and natural materials.


Dr Robert Quarshie

Regulation and taxation has increased public awareness of the need for sustainable development. However, consumption of products is increasing as is the demand for new applications. There are opportunities through the integration of sustainable design concepts with materials knowledge for effective end of life deconstruction of structures and recycling or reuse of product waste.

This presents further opportunities for public procurement to drive innovation and growth. To help designers visualise materials more clearly, through touch and feel, the KTN has developed a physical Resource Centre with a stock comprising well in excess of 1,000 separate material samples. The Resource Centre is fast becoming a recognised resource to showcase advances in materials and materials selection to effectively address societal issues.


Unlike the private sector, public procurement activity is governed by an extensive system of regulations and guidance. The key principles include value for money (across whole life, rather than just upfront costs) and EU treaty provisions. According to Dr Quarshie, the Director of the Materials KTN, ?public procurement can facilitate better exploitation of the UK?s science base. It can also provide economies of scale through more uniform standards. Standards set up by public procurement can drive innovation if this is supported by an adequate research and development infrastructure aimed at common public/private objectives for innovation. The Materials KTN is working with public procurement teams to pull through innovation?.

Dr Robert Quarshie, Director, Materials KTN

Added the 11 September 2008 in category Innovation UK Vol4-1

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