Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Towards a circular bioeconomy for technology-relevant metals and textiles

Apply for funding to use biotechnological solutions that reduce environmental impact in either the textile industry or the recovery of technology-relevant metals.

You must be:

  • at lecturer level or above
  • based at a UK research organisation eligible for BBSRC funding.

You may be an early career researcher.

The opportunity aims to:

  • effectively reuse resources, reducing the need for new fossil-based inputs
  • reduce the environmental footprint of processes through switching to bio-based alternatives
  • build in the recovery of materials at end of life.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £375,000. BBSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Your project can last up to 24 months.

The slides, question and answer document and a recording from the community webinars are now available in the additional info section.

Who can apply

Standard eligibility criteria apply to this funding opportunity, as set out in section three of the BBSRC research grants guide.

Principal investigators and co-investigators must hold a research staff appointment at least at lecturer level (or equivalent) and meet the standard BBSRC eligibility criteria.

Institutions and researchers normally eligible for BBSRC funding include, but are not limited to:

  • higher education institutions
  • strategically funded institutes
  • eligible independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments.

Applications from organisations or individuals that are not eligible will be rejected without reference to peer review.

Check if you and your organisation are eligible for research and innovation funding.

Research technical professionals

As the first funder to sign the Technician Commitment, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) recognises the value of technical expertise to the UK research workforce.

For technicians working in higher education and research, across all disciplines, UKRI is committed to ensuring visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians working in higher education and research, across all disciplines.

Accordingly, research technical professionals who will play a significant role in the technical or intellectual direction of the project are allowed to submit a grant proposal as a principal investigator or co-investigator. This is providing that they meet the eligibility requirements detailed in the BBSRC information on research technicians and technology and skills specialists.

Early career researchers and other research disciplines

Applications are encouraged from investigators who may not consider themselves to have a track record in the recovery of technology-relevant metals or the manufacturing and recycling of textiles.

This includes both early career researchers who have yet to establish a track record, as well as individuals from other research disciplines that are looking to explore the potential impact of their research in addressing the challenges specified in this opportunity.

It is anticipated that these investigators will provide evidence as to how their current expertise will bring a new dimension to the areas of technology-relevant metal recovery or the manufacturing and recycling of textiles.

Also, where appropriate, this will include how they will work with others to ensure the appropriate expertise is sought to ensure the success of the application.

Early career researchers should refer to sections 3.14 to 3.20 of the BBSRC research grants guide to understand the implications that applying to this opportunity may have on any new investigator or equivalent status for future applications.

Co-principal investigators

The Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system only allows one principal investigator to be named, therefore the co-principal investigator roles must be clearly identified within your application.

The principal investigator named on the Je-S form will, for administrative purposes, be the initial point of contact for liaison with UKRI during the lifetime of the award.

Collaborations

BBSRC is keen to promote, wherever appropriate, links between the science base, industry and other users. It is recognised that the likelihood of basic and strategic research being taken up by users will be enhanced if there is industrial awareness of and involvement in projects.

Accordingly, project partners are encouraged, but are not mandatory, on applications submitted to this opportunity.

Please note that BBSRC is unable to fund the work of project partners.

The nature of the collaboration and the role of the project partner should be described in the case for support.

A letter of support should be included from the project partner confirming the organisation’s role in and commitment to the proposed project and explain how it will contribute to the impact of the project including any cash or in-kind contributions.

For further details on project partners, see sections 2.49 to 2.54 of the BBSRC research grants guide.

Partnerships with international research groups, where they add value to the project through access to key facilities or in-kind contributions, are encouraged. Funding will only be provided to UK eligible organisations, but international researchers can be named as project partners.

What we're looking for

A circular bioeconomy encourages the recovery, reuse, and sustainable management of biological resources. The adoption of such an approach can help tackle challenges like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and pollution with consequent impacts on climate change and biodiversity loss.

Intelligent use of industrial biotechnology, biorefining, and engineering biology in combination with green physico-chemical approaches has the power to address many of the issues needed to develop a circular and environmentally sustainable economy.

Requirements

We invite applications that apply biotechnological solutions to offer circularity and environmental impact reduction in one of two key areas:

  • technology-relevant metal recovery
  • textile manufacturing and recycling.

For both areas, the opportunity aims to:

  • effectively reuse resources, thus reducing the need for new fossil-based inputs and reducing waste
  • reduce the environmental footprint of processes through switching to biotechnology-based alternatives
  • build in the recovery of materials at end of life, thereby facilitating remediation and minimising environmental impacts
  • converge and grow a community of UK researchers and businesses providing biotechnological solutions to the circular bioeconomy
  • improve understanding of the capabilities and limitations for translation and scale-up of the biotechnology-based approaches proposed.

For the chosen area, you should address one or more of the challenges detailed below. These descriptions are not exhaustive and other ideas that fit these challenges are encouraged.

Please contact us well in advance of the deadline if you are unsure whether your application fits within the scope of the opportunity.

Applications need to demonstrate a move away from the current linear system towards a circular system where materials and resources are re-used.

Applications should seek to provide evidence of impact on greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact reduction that biotech-approaches can have compared to conventional approaches, when appropriately scaled.

We encourage applications that feature interactions with other disciplines, but the main aim of any project must be to develop and use biotechnological processes.

The work to be undertaken must be primarily within BBSRC’s remit. We encourage multidisciplinary applications, but we strongly advise you to contact us before submission if significant aspects of the proposal are outside of our remit.

If you are planning to submit multiple applications to this opportunity, please contact us to discuss.

This opportunity follows the standard guidelines for research grant applications for BBSRC as described in the BBSRC research grants guide.

Scope

Technology-relevant metal recovery

We are interested in applications that utilise biotechnology to:

  • develop or improve technology-relevant metal recovery from e-waste, mining, battery, and other industrial wastes
  • enable the development of sustainable routes to produce high value products from recovered metals of significant industrial potential using industrial biotechnology, biorefining, and engineering biology. For example, biometallic catalysts for industrial application
  • explore the feasibility of economic scales of operation and understand biotechnological-based metal recycling’s role in the circular economy, including life-cycle assessment consideration.

The anticipated outcomes of this programme will be:

  • an improved understanding of how biotechnological methods can be used for extracting and separating key metals from complex mixes at a range of scales. For example, extraction from biomass and carbon supports, in presence of other metals and organic residues such as circuit boards and mixtures found in solid-state batteries
  • new biotechnological methods for solubilisation and recovery of metals including biofabrication of high value products, for example recovery in alternative useful forms beyond the native metal (in the form of nanoparticles, quantum dots (QDs), battery materials, catalysts achieved through compartments, cages and controlled biomineralisation).

This opportunity will further demonstrate the ability of biotechnological methods to assist with some of the issues faced in relation to e-waste and recovery of technology-relevant metals.

Textile manufacturing and recycling

We are interested in applications that use biotechnological approaches to develop the following.

Novel, sustainable, and renewable textile polymers and fibres

Approaches should make use of polymers from:

  • end-of-life textiles
  • crop residues and by products
  • crop fibres (such as hemp, flax, algae)
  • food industry residues
  • coarse wool
  • municipal solid waste as a source of natural fibre
  • waste feedstocks as the basis for the manufacture of synthetic fibres through microbial fermentation.

Breeding of natural fibres (such as cotton and hemp) to improve their sustainability would be out of scope. However, projects that propose circular processing of such crop fibres will be considered.

Applications which use biotechnology in the design process to create desired properties, for example resilience, drape, and breathability to make fabrics for specific application such as sportswear, are of particular interest. This could be, for instance, during the fibre spinning process or deposition of polymers.

The use of biotechnological processes to extend the life of textiles or change properties during use are also in scope.

Sustainable approaches to textile dyeing and finishing

Approaches should address the generation of novel, benign, and low impact bio-derived dyes or bio-derived functional replacements for petroleum-based chemicals used in textile finishing to give desired performance attributes. This includes water repellency, sweat wicking or softness, for example, from bacteria, algae, plants, wastes or residues.

We welcome applications to develop novel methods for incorporating bio-derived dyes and finishings into textiles that eliminate or reduce wastewater and waste chemicals in the process.

Applications which explore the recovery of dyes from end-of-life textiles (allowing circularity in the supply chain) are also encouraged.

Routes to recycle end of life textiles

Approaches should explore the means to overcome major challenges in polymer recovery and reuse, dye removal, and related issues with garment components and embellishments (for example zips, buttons, sequins, beads) during recycling.

Approaches should be predominately biotechnologically focused but could also include both chemical and mechanical approaches to facilitate biological processes. Recovered fibres should be suitable for creating new textiles or for new high-value applications.

Exclusions

Applications in the following areas will not be accepted:

  • applications that do not fit the scope of the opportunity
  • projects with an exclusive focus on purchase of equipment
  • resubmissions of previously unsuccessful applications
  • specific to the textiles area. This funding opportunity focuses on circular approaches. The breeding of natural fibres (such as cotton and hemp) to improve their sustainability would be out of scope.

Funding available

The indicative budget for this combined opportunity is up to £5 million, subject to the quality of applications received.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £375,000. BBSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

All projects must have a start date of no later than 1 February 2023 and a maximum duration of 24 months.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in the:

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

We recommend you start your application early.

When applying, select ‘new document’, then:

  • council: BBSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard
  • call/type/mode: Towards a Circular Bioeconomy – Precious Metal Recovery and Textiles

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

Deadline

BBSRC must receive your application by 21 July 2022 at 16:00.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Attachments

As well as the Je-S application form, the following documents must be submitted:

  • cover letter (one A4 side)
  • case for support (up to six A4 sides)
  • justification of resources (up to two A4 sides)
  • résumé for research and innovation (up to two A4 sides)
  • diagrammatic workplan (up to one A4 side)
  • data management plan (up to one A4 side)
  • letters of support, where relevant (no page limit).

You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface and should maintain margins of at least 2cm.

Letters of support are mandatory from project partners and collaborators. The letter of support should confirm the organisation’s role in and commitment to the proposed project and explain how it will contribute to the impact of the project including any cash or in-kind contributions.

The nature of the collaboration and the role of the project partner should be described in the case for support.

For detailed guidance on how to prepare each of these attachments, please see the guidance for applicants document (PDF, 126KB).

CVs are not required. Relevant eligibility and track record information will be captured through the résumé for research and innovation document. For further information, please see the résumé for research and innovation guidance and template (DOCX, 31KB).

Webinars

We are holding two 90 minute webinars for prospective applicants to this funding opportunity where we will provide further guidance on:

  • the scope
  • the background
  • how to apply
  • the résumé for research and innovation.

Register for the following dates:

  • 8 June 2022, 10:00
  • 13 June 2022, 14:00.

The webinars will feature the same content.

Attendance is not mandatory. All information will also be included in the published funding opportunity guidance if you are unable to attend the webinars.

A recording of the webinar will be made available.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

All eligible applications that are in scope of the funding opportunity will be assessed by a specially convened expert panel against the criteria below.

Applications will be fully assessed by the expert panel. Applications will not be sent to reviewers and therefore applicants will not receive reviewer comments. There will be no principal investigator rebuttal stage.

The panel will assess the applications against the criteria for assessment and provide the funders with a recommended rank-ordered list.

BBSRC reserves the right to modify the assessment process in response to demand. Any changes to the process will be communicated to all those who submit an application.

Assessment criteria

BBSRC staff will assess whether applications are within scope of the opportunity. Only those applications falling within the scope, having submitted the appropriate documentation, will be sent for assessment by the panel.

The assessment of applications will reflect the scope of the opportunity and applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • fit to the scope of the opportunity
  • scientific merit
  • timeliness and promise
  • ability of the applicants to deliver the objectives of the project
  • anticipated economic and social impact
  • value for money.

Although we aim to fund an approximately equal number of applications across the two areas, the office reserves the right to conduct portfolio management subject to the demand, volume and quality of applications received.

Full assessment criteria can be found in the guidance for applicants document (PDF, 126KB).

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

Eligibility

Email: eligibility@bbsrc.ukri.org

Advanced manufacturing and clean growth team

Email: circulareconomies@bbsrc.ukri.org

Additional info

Webinars on 8 June and 13 June

Following the community webinars on 8 June and 13 June, please see a copy of the slides presented (PDF, 843KB) and a detailed question and answer document covering questions (PDF, 93KB) raised at both webinars.

Please watch the recording of the webinar from 8 June (49 minutes).
Passcode: Z1JX@fLf

Supporting documents

BBSRC research grants guide

Guidance for applicants (PDF, 126KB)

Résumé for research and innovation guidance and template (DOCX, 31KB)

Equality impact assessment (DOCX, 40KB)

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