Siobhán Jordan: R&D a crucial catalyst for chemical industry

It often comes as a surprise to people that Scotland has some of the most valuable chemical sciences research in the world.
The chemical industry makes £3bn a year for the Scottish economyThe chemical industry makes £3bn a year for the Scottish economy
The chemical industry makes £3bn a year for the Scottish economy

Our deep understanding of molecules, materials and matter has brought our chemical industry to where it is today, one which makes £3bn a year for the economy and is responsible for exports of £4.5bn, which is 17 per cent of Scotland’s total – second only to the food & drink industry.

However it’s our research and development –consistently ranked in the top three in the world – which is probably our least utilised asset.

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Scotland’s research spans diverse fields from engineering to applied science and we pride ourselves on our specialist facilities and the knowledge and expertise of the people who make it all possible.

This research isn’t merely for the large chemical companies to use however; businesses in other industries, from food and drink to aerospace, can access knowledge that could really help the development of their products and services.

Collaboration is something that Chemical Sciences Scotland (CSS) is focused on driving forward, bringing people together to help businesses learn, access information and make relevant connections.

We believe collaboration and partnership is the best way to promote the sector, share learning and create opportunities for companies of all sizes – whether it’s attracting investment, developing talent and skills or driving efficiencies.

As the chemical sciences industry underpins a wide variety of sectors including food and drink, energy and water purification, it is our job at Interface to help businesses to take advantage of Scotland’s world-class research through our academic connections.

Interface’s matching process has resulted in almost 2,700 Scottish businesses being paired with relevant research partners who have supported the development and advancement of their products.

Not only can this research help businesses become more competitive in national and global markets, it can lead to the total transformation of an industry sector.

A good example of business and academia working together well was Sunamp, a Scottish manufacturer of heat batteries which store heat and provide hot water on demand.

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Through our connections at Interface, we were able to link the business with Professor Colin Pulham and his team in the School of Chemistry at University of Edinburgh and as a result, the two worked together to develop novel phase change materials which extended the battery’s lifetime and capacity.

The product was recently featured on the popular Channel 4 programme Grand Designs and is going from strength to strength in the market. It is an excellent example of the positive benefits from chemistry enabling a low carbon economy.

Of course, it is not just the business that benefits from these new relationships. Academia also can see advantages from working in collaboration with companies as it is given a unique opportunity to bring research and academic thinking to real-life industry challenges.

In short, Scotland’s world-renowned research should continue to be used by our chemical sciences businesses to give them the best chance of thriving in such competitive markets.

Whilst the sector is large, it has very durable networks and CSS is a great forum for helping to bring all of this work together.

By linking up more businesses with a wide range of academic disciplines, Scotland will continue to thrive in the chemicals industry both at home and abroad.

Dr Siobhán Jordan is director at Interface