Bringing it all together: the foundation industries challenge

Scientific examination

Collaboration is central to the whole premise of UKRI’s funding challenges, and our work with the UK’s foundation industries is certainly no exception.

Innovation can only happen when all pieces of the puzzle are working together, from:

  • research
  • manufacture
  • testing
  • communication
  • finance
  • regulation
  • adoption.

This is why we design our challenges to help these relationships flourish.

UKRI’s role

As part of our role in bringing this together, we recently held an online cohort event for the projects and partners of the transforming foundation industries (TFI) challenge’s fast start competition.

The aim was to:

  • showcase some of the work and progress of the funded projects to date
  • help create connections between innovative new companies, existing consortiums and investors to help take net zero solutions across the foundation industries to the next stage and beyond.

Working towards common goals

These new concepts, technologies, products and partnerships are all working towards the common goals we have set within the TFI challenge.

Paper factory

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They must look at ways to increase the international competitiveness, while also increasing the environmental sustainability of the industry through their solution. This can be through a reduction in:

  • carbon emissions
  • waste
  • energy
  • material consumption.

This includes incorporating the use of by-products from other parts of the sector. The creation of new, skilled job opportunities is also a key component for successful foundation industries of the future.

TFI opportunities for innovators

The underlying aim of the TFI challenge is not simply to provide funding, but to help facilitate innovation through:

  • support
  • networking
  • experience
  • research functions.

This maintains UKRI’s involvement with projects throughout their development.

As part of this cohort event, upcoming competitions were announced, providing support for innovators and consortia of all sizes. These included:

  • the small-scale R&D competition, for those looking for smaller sums with less experience of the funding process, which opens in August
  • the investor partnership competition, which aims to help grant receivers take a commercial step beyond their research and is open until November 2021.

In addition, a £14 million large-scale demonstrator competition will be open later in the year, firstly for outline applications and then for full project submissions in the new year. This large-scale programme will support >£5 million projects. It will focus on three crucial themes of energy efficiency, resource efficiency and digitalisation that will help make the industries fit for the future.

Wider elements of the TFI challenge

The event also gave an opportunity for projects and stakeholders to understand more about the wider elements of the TFI challenge, notably the work of:

  • Network+
  • investor partnership programmes
  • TransFIRe.


Network+ provide the connection between academia and industry, aiming to find solutions to common problems across the sector through a variety of projects and workshops.

It also runs a flexible fund for relevant academic-led projects that address issues such as:

  • energy efficiency
  • supply chain resilience
  • enhancing working practices
  • circular economy solutions
  • next generation services.

Investor partnership

The TFI investor partnership helps applicants prepare their pitch and plan their finance journey, as well as helping review areas such as:

  • the project team
  • capabilities
  • scalability
  • supply chain
  • value.

TransFIRe hub

The TransFIRe hub supports a combination of companies, researchers and trade associations working within the hub with £4.7 million of funding across different workstreams that will look at everything from:

  • energy capture
  • product alternatives
  • waste
  • best practice
  • digitisation.

Latest innovations

The event showcased a number of ground-breaking innovations. It looked at the achievements made across a variety of foundation industries in areas such as:

  • reducing waste materials and energy
  • improving productivity to help the industries reach net zero goals.

Glass Technology Services

A potter talking to her customer

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EnviroAsh, led by Glass Technology Services, are working on converting waste from industrial processes into new raw materials.

It will create a cost-effective route to lowering the environmental impact in the glass, ceramics and cement sectors.

They attended the cohort event to discuss ways of expanding into the other foundation industries.


Similar waste reduction and re-use efforts are part of Cambond’s project for creating industry standard chipboard for construction.

They are combining waste from the paper and steel industries with a plant-based resin by-product from the brewing sector.

Materials Processing Institute

Heat and energy use is tackled first by the Materials Processing Institute’s project focused on the furnaces of the steel and brick making industries.

Here, new technology opportunities looked at using waste furnace heat to:

  • pre-heat combustion chambers
  • dry materials
  • improve overall fuel use and efficiency.
Woman engineer working in factory building

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Celsa Steel

The Power CO2 project, led by Celsa Steel will also tackle this area by looking at converting waste heat within the glass and steel industries into an electric output.

Modelling and testing will help the project understand the demand and technology needs for expanding across the market.

Tackling energy and productivity

Tackling energy as part of improving overall productivity within an industry is a focus of:

  • Lucideon’s flash sintering in manufacturing project, which will cut time and energy in the process
  • IRIFIO robotics project, led by I3D Robotics, which will create an optimised process to identify defects in glass products to lower waste and energy in mass production
  • the South Wales With Both Eyes Open consortium, led by ERM, will also tackle productivity areas and more through collaboration among all foundation industries in the region. It will improve:
    • cross-company knowledge
    • operational and resource sharing
    • waste re-use.

New products

Another key outcome from these innovations is often the creation of a new alternative product.

When it comes to the construction sector, Mace Group’s solution enables offsite construction of concrete building cassettes, using cemfree concrete, with a 45% carbon reduction.

The SaferII project, led by Alsitek, addresses cladding issues, using new technology to create non-toxic and fireproof building insulation.

While the Materials Processing Institute’s work with waste slag in the glass and steel sectors aims to create a composite material for high-speed road surfaces.

Other new products with potential across the funded projects include:

  • Q-Flo’s creation of clean hydrogen from waste methane, which can then be used in glass manufacture and carbon sheet material
  • LevWave, led by Drochaid Research Services, aim to use outputs from modernising productivity in the paper industry to produce a key chemical for use in solvents, additives and pharmaceutical products.

Each project has already proved the effectiveness of their concept. We will continue to work with them to further research and test their innovations before supporting their introduction in the industries.

In summary…and what the future holds

Industrial welder with torch

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The event clearly demonstrated the strength and breadth of innovation and opportunity within the foundation industries.

The consortia at the event, brought together by UKRI’s funding, support and strategic expertise, are not just raising the bar for these industries. They are showcasing how the entire landscape can be changed.

Throughout the event, stakeholders had time to come together to:

  • discuss the next steps for projects
  • discuss opportunities to work collaboratively with one another, whether that’s:
    • researchers
    • manufacturers
    • industry experts
    • new technology players
  • take the solutions even further as we face net zero targets and international competition.

UKRI and the TFI challenge will continue our central role in achieving these goals and helping modernise the sector for the future.

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