Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Pre-announcement: EPSRC circular economy critical mass programmes

Apply for funding for engineering and physical sciences research which directly contributes to a circular economy.

You must:

  • be based at a UK organisation eligible for funding
  • meet individual eligibility criteria
  • involve at 1 least project partner

This EPSRC investment aims to support up to 2 critical mass circular economy programmes co-created with stakeholders to deliver high impact novel research.

Projects can be up to £6 million at 80% full economic cost. Project duration can be up to 60 months.

This is a pre-announcement and the information is subject to change before the opportunity opens.

Who can apply

Standard EPSRC eligibility rules apply. Research grants are open to:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UK Research and Innovation-approved independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments
  • eligible research and technology organisations
  • NHS bodies with research capacity

Check if your institution is eligible for funding.

You can apply if you are a resident in the UK and meet at least 1 of the conditions below:

  • are employed at the submitting research organisation at a level equivalent to lecturer or above
  • hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee
  • hold an EPSRC, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship aimed at later career stages
  • hold fellowships under other schemes (please contact EPSRC to check eligibility, which is considered on a case-by-case basis)

Holders of postdoctoral level fellowships are not eligible to apply for an EPSRC grant.

What we're looking for

This is a pre-announcement to highlight a future EPSRC opportunity to fund up to 2 critical mass programmes directly contributing to the realisation of a UK circular economy and the environmental, economic and social benefits this will bring.

The information presented is subject to change before the opportunity opens in late November or early December 2022.

EPSRC’s strategic delivery plan details our Engineering Net Zero priority ambition to deliver whole systems approaches and solutions to:

  • use the Earth’s resources as efficiently as possible
  • eliminate pollution and contributions to landfill
  • help deliver a sustainable zero carbon future

The delivery plan identifies specific opportunities and investment activities to work towards a circular economy. In addition, councils across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are working together on UKRI’s strategic theme of ‘building a greener future’ within the context of the UK’s Net Zero Research and Innovation Framework.

Realising the environmental, economic and social benefits a circular economy enables requires new technologies, products, processes, tools and materials. These EPSRC programmes will build on related investments by focussing on strategic engineering and physical sciences (EPS) research and innovation challenges to a circular economy.

Although these programmes must have the EPS research challenges of a circular economy as their core focus, EPSRC recognises that achieving a circular economy at scale is complex and high-risk. This requires the integration of multiple stakeholders and broad interdisciplinary teams across and beyond the remit of EPSRC. These critical mass investments will provide the scale, flexibility and length of award necessary to support this.

This funding opportunity will deliver against EPSRC’s strategic aims by supporting up to 2 critical mass circular economy research programmes which will:

  • deliver high quality and high impact EPS research addressing strategically important challenges associated with delivering a circular economy and the more sustainable and resilient future this will support
  • build on previous investments in the area to significantly grow the UK’s EPS capacity and capability in the circular economy and build a thriving interdisciplinary research community with impact and systems thinking at its core
  • foster and support collaborative partnerships with new and existing partners across and beyond EPSRC remit and with non-academic stakeholders
  • encourage the longer-term uptake of circular economy technologies and practices in industrial partners enabling the broader economic, social and environmental impacts this will bring
  • support the integration of academic research and innovation with local, regional and national government priorities to inform and influence future policy and regulation

Key features of the opportunity

This funding opportunity will support programmes which have delivering a circular economy and the economic, social and environmental benefits it enables as their core vision and primary research challenge.

Proposals which are relevant to the circular economy but where it is not the core focus will not be eligible through this opportunity, and applicants should consider alternative EPSRC schemes.

The proposed research’s core focus must be on engineering and physical sciences (EPS) research. Proposals need to be at least 50% within EPSRC’s remit. However, involvement of researchers from other disciplines (including those from other UKRI councils) is welcome and encouraged.

Circular economy research is often interdisciplinary by necessity, so applicants are expected to co-create solutions between different disciplines, within and beyond EPSRC’s remit, as appropriate.

Programmes will be expected to:

  • address 1 or more strategic research challenges directly driven by the vision of a circular economy
  • take a systems approach and consider the trade-offs and unintended consequences of adopting a circular economy in the chosen area
  • demonstrate co-creation and collaboration with stakeholders including industry, policy and the third sector to identify real life research challenges, evidenced by at least 1 project partner and evolving these relationships as appropriate as the programme and the research develops
  • identify and embed clear and realistic impact translation pathways
  • develop the skills of the researchers and partners involved
  • embed environmental sustainability throughout the programme

EPSRC will accept applications in any sector(s) or considering any resource flow(s), but the broader research, business, policy and civic landscapes within which the proposed programme would sit must be considered.

Applicants must be able to articulate how they will interact with existing investments and demonstrate how their work will compliment and add value to the existing research and innovation landscape.

The following articulates some of the key EPS challenges to achieving a circular economy, 1 or more of which may be addressed by a given proposal (it is by no means an exhaustive list and applications need not be restricted to these areas):

  • developing our fundamental understanding of how and when to implement circular economic systems and at what geographical and policy scales
  • ensuring renewable, reusable, non-toxic resources are utilised efficiently as materials and energy, to ensure positive environmental, economic and social impact
  • adopting a systems approach to manufacturing processes and design, using the right materials designed for extended lifetimes through repair and reuse
  • utilising waste streams as a source of secondary resources and recovering waste for reuse and recycling

The outline opportunity guidance will provide further details about the opportunity scope and requirements. EPSRC plans to run a webinar in December to provide an opportunity for potential applicants to ask questions.

Further details will be provided in the outline opportunity guidance.

How to apply

Information on how to apply will be provided in the outline opportunity document.

How we will assess your application

Assessment will be in 2 stages:

  • outline stage, assessed by an expert outline panel
  • full proposal stage, with postal peer review and interview panel

Further details will be provided in the outline opportunity document.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Naomi South, Portfolio Manager


Becky Cheesbrough, Portfolio Manager


Manufacturing and the Circular Economy team


Please include ‘Circular Economy programmes’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within 5 working days.

Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Links to wider programme or area

There are many different definitions of a circular economy. At its heart, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) considers it to be about:

  • producing less
  • keeping the products, materials and resources we do use and produce in circulation at their highest value for as long as possible
  • recovering resources after use

The UKRI strategy for 2022 to 2027 aims to drive the development, adoption and diffusion of green technologies, building a sustainable circular economy and a greener future for the UK as we move to net zero. More circular use of resources is crucial to:

  • achieving net zero carbon emission targets
  • reducing resource consumption, waste and pollution harmful to biodiversity
  • enhancing health and resource security
  • offering the UK significant economic, social and environmental benefits

Supporting the interdisciplinary, whole systems, engineering, physical sciences, maths, and information and communications technology research and innovation needed to deliver a circular economy is a priority for EPSRC.

It directly delivers against EPSRC’s Engineering Net Zero priority ambitions to collaborate across UKRI to deliver whole systems approaches and solutions to:

  • reduce resource use
  • eliminate pollution
  • deliver a sustainable zero carbon future

Achieving the promise of a more circular economy requires research and innovation across the engineering and physical sciences landscape. EPSRC wants to support research and innovation directly addressing the challenge, but also support researchers across the portfolio to consider sustainability and circularity more broadly in their proposals.

Grant additional conditions

Grants are awarded under the standard UKRI grant terms and conditions.

Responsible innovation

EPSRC is fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and to encourage our research community to do likewise.

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.