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Science to enable the circular economy

Discussion meeting


The Royal Society, London, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG


Scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor Matthew Davidson, Professor Richard Catlow FRS, Professor Adrian Mulholland and Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FRS.

PETase molecules breaking down PET-plastic © selvanegra

For society to be sustainable, realising circular flows of molecules and materials will be fundamental to delivering the circular economy. This meeting will bring together scientists and engineers to highlight efforts to meet the formidable challenge of 'keeping the molecules in play' by addressing important global challenges such as using waste carbon dioxide, harnessing biotechnology and eliminating plastics pollution.

More information on the programme and speakers will be available soon. Speaker abstracts will be available closer to the meeting. Recorded audio of the presentations will be available on this page after the meeting has taken place. Meeting papers will be available in a future issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Attending this event

This meeting is intended for researchers in relevant fields.

  • Free to attend
  • Limited places, advance registration essential
  • An optional lunch can be purchased during registration

Enquiries: contact the Scientific Programmes team

Event organisers

Select an organiser for more information

Schedule of talks

24 June

Session 1 09:00-12:30

Fuels and chemicals for a circular economy

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Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FRS, Cardiff University, UK

09:00-09:05 Welcome by the Royal Society and Matthew Davidson

09:05-09:30 Catalysis and process engineering for efficient use of renewable resources

Professor Regina Palkowits, Institut für Technische und Makromolekulare Chemie, Germany

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09:45-10:15 TBC

10:30-11:00 Coffee break

11:00-11:30 The mechanisms to achieve a circular economy

Dr John Warner, CEO & President Warner Babcock, USA


The natural world is a beautiful and intricate system of intertwined and overlapping materials ecosystems. As humans, our understanding of the various interrelationships is only at the most basic level. One important reason why these naturally interdependent cyclic systems exist with exquisite complexity is because of the very fact that they all co-emerged over hundreds of thousands of years in the presence of one another. Evolutionary forces drove symbiotic relationships by selecting for and against mechanisms and materials that were conducive to the success of the entire multi-component matrix. As human society seeks to create a circular economy, we unfortunately have the disadvantage that our various industrial “species” have developed with a level of independence, essentially unaware of adjacent processes. We are forced into a position of creating connectivities that were not part of the considerations in the original design. Obviously this creates a daunting challenge. While there have been some examples of the circular economy designed and deployed in many industrial settings, the vast majority of industrial products and processes continue to exist disconnected and unsustainable over the long run. The pathway to create most of these technological ecosystems will require the inventive application of green chemistry (the molecular level mechanistic underpinnings of sustainability). Nature creates materials of such exquisite structural complexity and diversity that humans may never be able to mimic them. Nature’s elegance is even more astounding when one considers the fact that most chemistry in the biological world is carried out at ambient temperature and pressure using water, for the most part, as its reaction medium. For society to become truly sustainable, the way we manufacture, use and repurpose materials must change dramatically. This presentation will describe John Warner’s mechanistic considerations of materials design and illustrate their application through recent R&D examples from the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. Examples from pharmaceuticals, personal care, construction materials and textiles will be included.

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11:45-12:15 TBC

Session 2 13:15-17:00

Polymers for a circular economy

5 talks Show detail Hide detail


Professor Matthew Davidson, University of Bath, UK

13:15-13:45 Renewability is not enough: sustainable synthesis of biomass-derived monomers and polymers

Professor Michael A R Meier, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

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13:55-14:25 TBC

14:35-14:50 Tea break

14:50-15:20 New applications for sustainable biopolymers

Professor Janet Scott, University of Bath, UK

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15:30-16:00 Polymers from renewable resources

Professor Charlotte Williams, University of Oxford, UK

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16:30-18:00 Poster session

25 June

Session 3 09:00-12:30

Biotechnology in a circular economy

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Professor Adrian Mulholland, University of Bristol, UK

09:00-09:30 Enzyme catalysed reactions for high-value applications

Professor Nicholas Turner, University of Manchester, UK

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09:45-10:15 TBC

10:30-11:00 Coffee

11:00-11:30 Biocatalytic engineering for the sustainable production of chemicals

Professor Roger Sheldon, Delft University of Technology

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11:45-12:15 TBC

Session 4 13:30-17:00

Techno-economic, societal and environmental impacts of the circular economy

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Professor Richard Catlow FRS, University College London, UK

13:30-14:00 Environmental aspects of the circular economy

Professor Adisa Azapagic, The University of Manchester, UK

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14:15-14:45 Closed-loop biocatalytic processes

Dr Kai Baldenius, BASF SE, Germany

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15:00-15:30 Tea

15:30-16:00 TBC

16:15-17:00 Panel discussion

Related events

Science to enable the circular economy

Scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor Matthew Davidson, Professor Richard Catlow FRS, Professor Adrian Mulholland and Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FRS

The Royal Society, London 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG UK
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