iCAST invests over £1.3M in material characterisation equipment to meet industry needs in sustainable innovation





The new equipment has expanded the capabilities of the labs in Bath and Oxford and led to 37 projects with industry.

Since its launch in 2021, the iCAST labs at the Universities of Bath and Oxford have acquired specialised lab materials worth over £1.3M that have enabled the completion of 22 joint projects with industry, with another 15 projects underway.

This major investment has allowed expanding the lab-based capabilities in both the Bath and Oxford sites to meet the innovation needs of a wide range of industry sectors, including chemical, polymer, resin, formulations, agrochemicals, plastic recycling, packaging, automotive, composite, construction, textile, footwear, leather and other sectors who are looking to moving towards sustainable technologies or solutions.

Dr Ben Groombridge, iCAST Specialised Technician, said: “At Bath, we have the capability to synthesise chemicals or polymers of up to 10L in our range of jacketed reactions, and up to 3L in our pressure reactors. We have particularly increased our polymer processing ability, thanks to a state-of-the-art high torque vertical twin screw compounder with injection moulder, pelletiser and film line. 

“This is complemented by our polymer and material analysis suite with our own 10kN tensile tester, which can perform compression, bend and peel tests to industry standards. 

“We have dedicated equipment to analyse thermal properties (for example, DSC and TGA instruments with autosampler), as well as a permeability tester to assess the permeability of water, oxygen and carbon dioxide through films. We can modify thin materials via spin or dip coating and, if needed, test their hydrophobicity by water contact angle measurement.

“Other equipment at iCAST includes a UV-visible spectrophotometer, a portable Raman spectrophotometer, and a contact angle tester. At Bath, we have access to the various polymer and materials characterisation instruments – including FTIR, GC-MS, NMR, DMA, XRD, SEM, EDS, TEM, AFM, confocal microscopy, MS, MALDI-TOF, HPLC and GPC– through the University of Bath’s Materials and Chemical Characterisation (MC2) and EPSRC-funded Dynamic Reaction Monitoring (DReaM) facilities.”

In Oxford, one of iCAST’s groups is Professor Charlotte Williams’, which has just opened the Sustainable Polymer Materials Processing and Characterization Labs. The new labs host state-of-the-art polymer application development facilities and equipment and have been co-funded by iCAST, the Sir Henry Royce Institute, the EPSRC and the University of Oxford. 

Dr Gemma Fereday-Trott, Polymer Materials Analytical Suite Manager at the University of Oxford, said: “We are using the equipment to test the processing of new materials with industry relevant methods, including compounding, compression and injection moulding. We also evaluate new product thermal, rheological and mechanical properties, using internationally standardised methods.

“The new equipment, in combination with the Oxford facilities for polymerisation chemistry, is allowing us to make new bio-derived and carbon dioxide-derived plastics, thermoplastic elastomers, adhesives and surfactants working with a range of chemical industry and chemical-using industries.”

In the coming months, iCAST will be focusing on improving its digitisation capabilities.


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