Staff spotlight - Ben Groombridge, Specialist Technician
University of Bath
Dr Ben Groomridge is iCAST’s specialist technician. based at the University of Bath. We interviewed Ben to discuss his role and recent projects in biodegradable plastics.
What does a ‘Specialist Technician’ do?
I support the day-to-day operations within the iCAST facility at the University of Bath, for example integrating specialist equipment in the lab and helping lab users. I’m also present in any meetings and committees that impact the running of the facility.
While always in the lab, my days are really varied – from dealing with procurement and equipment maintenance to researching core iCAST projects.
Any particular favourite bits on the job?
I definitely enjoy the research side of it the most. But I won’t deny that I’ve also been pretty excited about all the new equipment we have been getting – large-scale reactors, thermal analysis instruments, a state-of-the-art compounder with post extrusion equipment – and which will really broaden the scope of our projects.
What have you been working on?
The last few months I have been focusing on the formulation of bio-based tree guards to replace petrochemical based ones typically used to protect young trees.
On average, 40% of trees planted in newly established woodlands across the UK are damaged or destroyed by wildlife – hence the need for tree guards to protect the saplings. But of course, petrochemical-based tree guards need to be collected after use and are difficult to recycle.
We’re prototyping a bio-based resin made from chemicals extracted from UK-grown plants, in conjunction with a plant-based filler that is water, UV and soil resistant but which has been shown to degrade in accelerated studies.
So, once the tree guard has fulfilled its purpose of protecting saplings, it will break down naturally in the environment, ultimately leaving no waste.
Plus, to prevent animals from eating the tree guards, we’ve made them taste bitter.
The project has been a success and we are looking forward to manufacturing bio-based tree guards on a larger scale. A highlight of the project was showcasing these bio-based tree guards to HRH Prince Edward while he was visiting Bath recently.
What did you do before joining iCAST?
My career has come full circle. I studied Chemistry at the University of Bath and then completed a PhD in organic chemistry at Queen Mary University of London.
I then joined the University of Bath again, as a technician at the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, where I worked for a few years. But the effects of climate change are well known to all of us, and I really wanted my work to make a difference in this area, so I jumped at the chance to start my journey into sustainability with iCAST.
How does a better future look, in your opinion?
A brighter future is one where we work together to overcome the challenges facing us and future generations.
To achieve our goals of net zero by 2050, collaboration is essential, especially in overcoming institutional barriers. We hope to address this by combining the expertise of academics with very real industry problems and needs.
Many aspects of the way we live now will need to change and immediate research is needed into moving toward a circular economy.
iCAST can play an essential role in identifying industrial capability gaps in the properties and environmental impacts of these materials.
What do you do when you’re not in the lab?
When I am not iCASTing I like being active – from cycling and running to Ultimate Frisbee (as an undergraduate I was the University of Bath’s Captain for 2 years).
Like many, the recent pandemic has turned my thumbs green and I have found I spend more time gardening and growing vegetables at my allotment.
I have also just become a dad, so that’s pretty much my full-time job now and for the next few months!
Tap into the expertise, facilities and networks of a partnership created to help you bring innovation in sustainable technologies to market.