March 12, 2024 | University Partners

University of Exeter to play major role in world’s first UN-backed centre for circular economy research

The University of Exeter is a partner in a new United Nations-backed centre that will propel the transition to a future circular economy.

The International Centre of Excellence on Sustainable Resource Management in the Circular Economy, announced today by Resources Minister Robbie Moore, will develop new approaches to the circular economy in areas such as metals, construction and critical minerals.

It is the first centre of its type in the world, established in the UK in recognition of the world-leading expertise in circular economy at UK institutions such as the University of Exeter.

In a circular economy, resources are kept in use at their highest value for as long as possible, rather than being taken from the earth, used once and disposed of in landfill – with products and materials maintained, reused and remanufactured where possible.

The new centre, which will formally open in April 2024, is a collaboration between the University of Exeter and University College London (UCL), Brunel University, Swansea University and the British Geological Survey, who together contributed £1.85 million to fund the centre’s technical activities.

It will develop new approaches to the circular economy and resource efficiency to enable carbon reduction and the transition to a greener future as well as ensure the UK can help countries across the world to maximise the environmental and economic opportunities the circular economy offers.

Co-ordinated by a Government-funded UNECE research manager based in Geneva, the coalition of academic partners will leverage their expertise to explore circularity in areas such as metals, construction and critical minerals to develop effective re-usable data, technological innovation, finance models and policy.

Resources Minister Robbie Moore said: “This is real recognition of the UK’s global leadership in sustainable resource management and testament to Britain’s world-leading academic expertise. We are delighted to host this centre, enabling our cutt5ing-edge UK academics to develop the tools and research that will help countries across the world seize the opportunities of the circular economy, leading the way in the transition to a greener future.”

The centre will draw heavily on the success of Exeter and other partner institutions in the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research (NICER) research and development programme, a four-year £30 million investment established by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ chief scientist in 2019 under the UK Government’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

The University of Exeter’s work role in the NICER programme comes through its Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Technology Metals (Met4Tech) and co-ordinating National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research Hub (NICER CE-Hub).

Professor Fiona Charnley, Co-Director of the University of Exeter’s NICER CE-hub, said: “The new Centre of Excellence will allow the coalition of partners to build on the past four years of the NICER programme to amplify Exeter’s programme of work on CE roadmaps, knowledge exchange, policy tools, business model innovation and executive education and training.”

Professor Peter Hopkinson, Co-Director of the NICER CE-hub at the University of Exeter said: “To accelerate a transition to a circular economy requires real-time, forward looking and reusable data systems aligned to policy and industry needs. Exeter’s NICER CE-data observatory provides the foundation for such an approach, which we can now scale and apply globally to influence real world decisions across multiple resource flows.”

Professor Frances Wall, Professor of Applied Mineralogy at the Camborne School of Mines, part of the University of Exeter, said: “We have been working with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe for a while, including writing up a formal case study of the United Nations Resource Management System applied to Cornwall and contributing to other Circular Economy activities. The International Centre of Excellence is an exciting initiative that will enable us to build on this, with research and training towards using our natural resources wisely for the benefit of all, with colleagues worldwide.”

UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean added: “Making the use of our resources more sustainable and moving towards a circular economy is fundamental to sustainable development and climate action. Partnerships mobilising international expertise play an important role in UN cooperation to develop and share best practices. I welcome the establishment of this new Centre of Excellence, with its focus on circularity of metals, construction and critical raw materials.”