Royal Society president opens University of Liverpool's Materials Innovation Factory, a capital project funded through a flagship Research England scheme

Royal Society president opens University of Liverpool's Materials Innovation Factory, a capital project funded through a flagship Research England scheme

5 October 2018

President of the Royal Society and Nobel Prize winner, Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, today opened the Materials Innovation Factory at the University of Liverpool.

The £81m facility, awarded £11m of funding through a flagship Research England scheme – the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), is dedicated to the research and development of advanced materials.

Bringing together materials chemistry expertise with the latest computational and robotic equipment, the new facility aims to accelerate research and support the development of a wide range of new products that have the potential to address global challenges such as climate change, clean water and battery energy storage.

Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan said:

‘The strength of material science in the North West is, to a great extent, built on the collaboration between academia and industry which is so well embodied in the Materials Innovation Factory. Whether it is human health, sustainability or a range of other areas, advanced materials offer tools by which we can tackle some of the big challenges we face on the global stage. The range of expertise here in Liverpool can make a big contribution to meeting those challenges and to driving economic growth.’

In keeping with one of the key objectives of the UKRPIF, the Materials Innovation Factory is based on a strategic partnership between Liverpool University and global consumer goods company Unilever. Unilever provided up to £25m in co-investment, with an additional input of £4.5m for equipment and software, and will base a key part of its research and development function at the facility. Other co-investment includes £10.9m from Royce and £34.8m from the University of Liverpool itself. 

The 11,600 square metre building boasts one of the highest concentrations of materials science automation technology in the world and can accommodate a range of academic and industrial researchers on a flexible, open-access basis, enabling cross-disciplinary collaborations, networking and knowledge exchange.

Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah, said:

‘This inspiring facility brings together some of the UK’s most talented scientists and academics, with cutting edge robots and computers, to meet the future challenges our society will face. I want to see the UK continue to grow its reputation as an innovation superpower and with government and private sector investment in new research facilities like this one in Liverpool, we are striving towards our ambition for 2.4% of GDP to be spent on research and innovation by 2027.’

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, Professor Dame Janet Beer, said:

‘The opening of the Materials Innovation Factory is an important milestone for the University of Liverpool. The institution is known for its world-class research in advanced materials and these impressive new facilities will serve to further accelerate progress. The applications for our research in this area are truly exciting, with the potential to answer some of the greatest challenges facing the world today in fields such as sustainable energy, healthcare and manufacturing.”

Research England’s Executive Chair, David Sweeney, said:

‘The Materials Innovation Factory embodies our objectives for UKRPIF. Thanks to Unilever’s commitment, the facility will enable the University of Liverpool to develop and expand its world-renowned chemistry department, strengthen ties with industrial and academic partner organisations and help leverage considerable investment in UK research and development. The scheme is a key contributor to the government’s commitment to see research and innovation investment rise to 2.4% of GDP. The centre’s diverse pool of researchers, combined with cutting-edge equipment and facilities, will address global challenges, explore new opportunities in materials science, and, through world-leading research, help to grow the UK economy.’

The centre is also the Liverpool hub for chemical materials discovery within the Henry Royce Institute, strengthening the university’s ties with other members of the institute including the Universities of Manchester, Sheffield, Oxford and Cambridge.

Research activity at the Materials Innovation Factory spans organic materials, inorganic materials, nanomedicines, sustainability, genomic sequencing and high throughput formulation.  The Leverhulme Research Centre for Functional Materials Design, created to drive a design revolution for functional materials at the atomic scale, is also located in the facility.

Established in 2012, the UKRPIF has provided over £680m of capital funding to 43 research projects across the UK in its first five rounds, attracting £1.73bn in double-match funding from non-public sources. Round six of UKRPIF competition is currently underway, with £220m of capital funding available until 2021, taking the total government investment in the fund to £900m.

Notes for editors

  1. Research England shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in English universities. We are responsible for funding, engaging with and understanding these institutions, and working with devolved funding bodies and the Office for Students to understand their strategies, capabilities and capacity. We support and challenge universities to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. We distribute over £2.2bn to universities in England every year in the form of quality-related research (QR) funding, and via the Higher Education Innovation Fund. We are responsible for administering the Research Excellence Framework, used to inform QR funding, and for delivering the forthcoming Knowledge Exchange Framework. We also support specific activities with dedicated project funding, including the £900m UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, and the £100m Connecting Capability Fund. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 established Research England as a Council of UK Research and Innovation alongside the seven Research Councils and Innovate UK. @ResEngland
  2. The aims of the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund are to:
    1. enhance the research facilities of HEIs undertaking world-leading research
    2. encourage strategic partnerships between HEIs and with other organisations active in research
    3. stimulate additional investment in university research
    4. strengthen the contribution of the research base to economic growth.
  3. The UKRPIF supports research facilities in universities by attracting investment in research and strengthening its contribution to economic growth. Awards are made on the basis of research excellence, value for money, and projects achieving double-match funding from private sources.
  4. UKRPIF is administered by Research England in collaboration with the other three UK Higher Education funding bodies – the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.
  5. Proposals for funding through the UKRPIF are assessed by an independent assessment panel.
  6. UKRPIF was first launched with £100 million of public finance in May 2012. In response to the large number of high-quality bids, the Government tripled the public support to £300 million in autumn 2012 and ran a second round of the special funding initiative. In June 2013, the Government announced a further two rounds of UKRPIF, extending it to 2016-17 and making available an additional £200 million to be allocated over two years. A further £230 million was allocated to projects in round 5 in the competition.
  7. For further information on the UKRPIF
  8. The University of Liverpool is one of the UK’s leading research institutions with an annual turnover of £523 million.  Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group. Visit or follow on Twitter @livuninews