Alumni

USW academic helping industry make major financial savings

Sandra Esteves

Professor Sandra Eteves


A research project that will help industry make significant savings and improve their environmental performance is being spearheaded by the University of South Wales (USW).

Professor Sandra Esteves, a specialist in bioprocess technology at USW’s Sustainable Environment Research Centre (SERC), is leading the SMART Circle Research Consortium, which aims to help businesses improve their efficiency, reduce environmental impact, generate more income and reduce bills.

Consortium partners include Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and Cogent Power, which is part of the TATA Steel Group. Other partners include GP Biotec, Bryn Power, FRE-Energy, BPE Design and Support, Heatcatcher and, from Spain, the Severo Ochoa Foundation.

The three-year project is funded by a £1m grant from the Welsh Government’s SMART Expertise Programme, which utilises EU structural funds to support innovation in industry, and a £1m match contribution from the industry partners. The project was the first to be funded under the SMART Expertise scheme, with the team highly commended for its innovative approach.

The consortium will work together to explore how innovative bioprocesses can be used to improve the overall efficiency of a range of industrial operations. For example, one area of focus will be the industrial demonstration of a biological process that will convert waste gases, including carbon dioxide, into a useful fuel and allow the recovery of any wasted heat energy, therefore improving the overall economic and environmental performance of the end user.

The project also aims to develop technology that can recover unused, high-value molecules including nutrients and enzymes from low-value materials such as sewage sludge, commercial and municipal solid wastes. These high-value materials are then available for use in other industrial processes, and the disposal cost of any remaining waste is greatly reduced.

The ultimate aim of the project is to develop more efficient bio-technology systems that could provide viable solutions to help businesses become more resource efficient and adopt ‘Circular Economy’ approaches. 

Prof Esteves, whose expertise is in developing technology that helps to recover energy and materials, said: “The strategy, technology and methods we are working to develop through this research aims to give businesses ways to benefit from using the waste products they produce during their industrial processes.

“By finding ways in which we can use more of the by-products, the businesses will be able to use these to make their processes more efficient, spend less on waste disposal, become more environmentally friendly, and, in turn, improve quality of life for wider society.

ERDF logo“Working with business partners will mean that we have access to a wide variety of production and waste treatment processes which we can study to develop these more efficient systems.”

Mark Cichuta, Director of Product and Process Development at Tata Steel UK Limited, said: “SMART Circle provides us with the opportunity to participate in the development of processes that could improve the efficiency and reduce the carbon emissions of a range of industrial processes. This is exciting, game-changing research and development, and we are pleased to provide our support to the team.”

Denise Nicholls, Managing Director of Fre-Energy Ltd, added: “Fre-Energy is a company that is constantly innovating, so participating in the SMART Circle project is a natural extension of our business activities. Improving resource efficiency invariably provides opportunities across the board – businesses, the environment and society can benefit from the outputs of this exciting and ambitious project.”

While Dr Richard Matthews, Asset Engineer for Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, added: “SMART Circle is an ambitious research project that could lead to far-reaching improvements in our waste water treatment processes over the coming years.

“The principle of extracting the maximum value from the material that we treat will help us to continue to meet our regulatory requirements and protect our environment, as well as providing best value to our customers.” 

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