Circular Metals

Circular Metals

Metallic materials are the backbone of manufacturing and the fuel for economic growth. The UK metals industry comprises 11,100 companies, employs 230,000 people, directly contributes £10.7 billion to UK GDP. As a foundation industry, it underpins the competitive position of every industrial sector, including aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, defence and general engineering.

Transformation of the metals industry from the current largely linear economy to a circular economy plays a critical role in delivering the government’s industrial strategy for clean growth, doubling of resource productivity and reaching net zero carbon emissions in 2050. The UKRI Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals will accelerate this transformation. The centre comprises a truly interdisciplinary academic team with a wide range of academic expertise and a strong industrial consortium involving the full metals supply chain. As an integral part of the national circular economy community, the project ambition is to make the UK the first country in the world to realise a full circular economy of metals by 2050.

Led by Professor Zhongyun Fan (Brunel University London), the Centre has four interconnected dimensions: economical, environmental, technological and societal, led by researchers at Brunel, UCL and Warwick.

The Institute of Making, under the leadership of Professor Mark Miodownik, will conduct research on the societal aspects of metals within a circular economy, specifically looking at consumer engagement with repair and recycling. Since the middle of the 20th century, we have seen a dramatic decline in the repair and recycling of household objects. Our research will:

  • Collect and analyse public attitudes and behaviours to reuse, repair and recycling of household goods containing stocks of steel and aluminium using a citizen science approach.
  • Analyse the data on reuse, repair and recycling to calculate impact on steel and aluminium circularity as well as net zero targets. 
  • Work with partners and stakeholders to formulate policy recommendations to increase these behaviours. 
  • Lead the public engagement on Materials & Society for the Centre and contribute to the work by the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub (CE-Hub) and other circular economy centres.

The research will become public champions for circular metals through maintaining a strong media and online presence, as well as having an educational and policy outlook. It will inform public debate and supply new data and insights into public discourse on the vital role of metals in society. The research will not just lead to systems change, but a fundamental change of public attitudes to tackling waste and the resulting environmental pollution. This will be achieved through the creation of media programmes, articles, research papers, public events, citizen science, teaching resources and policy interventions.

Researcher Profiles

Charnett Chau - Research Associate

Charnett is a Research Associate on the Circular Metals project within the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She was formerly a researcher at the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub (PWIH). She has a biochemical engineering background and specialises in applying life cycle thinking to analyse the environmental impact of products and systems - life cycle assessments (LCAs). She is currently applying the LCA methodology across sectors, including consumer/packaging, construction, and healthcare, advising on the sustainability of new interventions and/or implementations to our current and future systems.  Working as part of the multidisciplinary team, she's interested in creating lasting changes and assisting our project partners in taking steps towards a circular economy.

Beth Munro - Research Fellow

Beth is Research Manager at the Institute of Making, and conducted the initial phase of research on the Circular Metals project. She is an Archaeologist by training who specialises in ancient recycling and is interested in social aspects of circular economies. She received her PhD in Archaeology from Oxford in 2010, and has worked as a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer. Beth is also currently a Research Associate at the Institute of Classical Studies, London.