Towards a shared vision for waste and resource management (1): Effective government – academic collaboration

The Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) programme coordinates a co-creation process to formulate a shared vision and approach to realise it for sustainable waste and resource management in the UK. In this way we contribute to the necessary transition towards a circular economy that is mindful of environmental and social boundaries.

This blog is the first of a series of three posts presenting preliminary results from our government engagement, inviting your further insights to take on board before publishing the final outcomes.

Overview RRfW co-creation process

The co-creation process consists of four steps (please see figure on the right). The first step has been completed. To gather insights from government, we interviewed RRfW partners in Defra, Zero Waste Scotland, BEIS, EA, and SEPA prior to a round table discussion with all participants. Conversations revolved around four questions:

  1. For which organisation(s) are you working & what is your role in waste and resource management?
  2. What would the resource and waste management landscape ideally look like by 2020, 2030 and 2050?
  3. If we would like waste management to be driven by environmental and social benefits in addition to economic benefits, what would be the key policy and regulatory approaches?
  4. How could RRfW best engage governmental organisations to translate knowledge into practice?


Results from government engagement will be submitted for publication in spring. Before finalising the article, we would like to invite further insights from government. In the next weeks we will present preliminary results in this blogpost series; We would appreciate if you could have a read and please let us know if we missed anything important. This week we discuss how RRfW could best engage governmental organisations to translate our technologies and approaches into practice.

Effective collaboration between government and academia

In what ways could RRfW academics best collaborate with government partners? Preliminary results covered recommendations from governmental partners for academics on potential engagement methods, organisations, government processes, and positioning and generation of research outcomes.

In what ways should academics engage government partners?

  • Engage governmental organisation from the start and follow-up regularly throughout the research project.
  • Communicate with partners at multiple government levels, which is crucial in the transition towards more sustainable waste and resource management. Radical changes are needed at all levels of government, and throughout society, hence to bring about such systemic change “taking everyone with us” is important.

Who should participate in academic research on resource recovery from waste?

  • Politicians such as MPs
  • Technical officers and policy makers in DEFRA, BEIS, Treasury and DCLG
  • Parliamentary groups and committees such as APSRG and the Environmental Audit Committee

Through which processes should academics engage government partners?

Aside from regular meetings with key contacts in the organisations mentioned above, academics can engage through the following processes:

  • Contribute to consultations such as for the industrial strategy, bioeconomy strategy and approaches to support the circular economy
  • Become member of relevant parliamentary groups and committees
  • Contribute to standards such as BREFs and the recycling protocol for demolition and construction waste
  • Make results more accessible through POST notes, the Raw Materials Information System, and existing or newly launched online databases for waste and resource management
  • Organise events in Westminster to engage politicians and other government actors

How should research outcomes be best positioned for government uptake?

Two, interlinked, approaches to position research outcomes were brought forward:

  1. Academia can play a key role in maintaining the bigger picture of whole systems. However, targeted interventions are required and academia should formulate practical recommendations for specific sectors or materials. In other words, academics should present whole system approaches but with more practical recommendations.
  2. Another key approach in presenting research outcomes revolves around integration. Building on the observation above that actors throughout society need to change, at all levels of government as well as industry and general public; academic work should integrate the diverse stakeholder perspectives, including:
  • Practical advice to support an integrated cross-government approach for waste and resource management
  • Integrate strategies for the circular economy with the wider agenda for economic development and protection of the environment
  • Recommend new metrics to integrate into economic development models, for example circular economy metrics or sets of metrics that include environmental and social indicators of progress in addition to economic metrics.
  • Join up the elements of the circular economy. While government interventions tend to focus on sectors and materials, academia should clarify how resources can circulate through the economy through interconnected sectors. In other words, academics should identify where joined up interventions for two or more sectors are necessary to support the emerging circular economy.

Which research activities should RRfW prioritise to support collaboration with government?

  • Identify policies and regulations linked to each RRfW research project
  • Carry out a situational analysis to understand if, and in what way, new approaches and technologies could be realised within the policy and regulatory context
  • Connect solutions and recommendations explicitly to policies and regulations in a specific region

We value your feedback!

Did we miss anything important in the outlined preliminary results? Are there any other and/or better ways for academics to collaborate effectively with government partners in this subject area? Please leave a comment or contact us.

We will finalise and submit the results for publication from the middle of February. Please share your views before 17. February 2017 to be included in the article – we will acknowledge all relevant contributions.

NB Should you wish to use the presented results above, please reference as: Anne P.M. Velenturf et al. (Forthcoming) Co-producing a Vision and Approach for the Transition towards a Circular Economy: Perspectives from Government Partners.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 23rd January 2017.


Bioelectrochemical Systems for Resource Recovery from Wastewater

By Edward Milner and Ana Suarez-Suarez

Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Edward Milner, working on the NERC-funded MeteoRR project, visited the world leading research group of Professor Korneel Rabaey at the Center for Microbial Ecology and Technology at the University of Gent in Belgium. Edward has been working on the use of bioelectrochemical systems (BES) to recover metals from wastewaters. He was fortunate to learn first-hand from Professor Rabaey and his group about their exciting new research in this area and practical details for setting up novel BES related to his work on the MeteoRR project.

Bioelectrochemical systems (BES) explained

BES technology can be used for resource recovery from wastewater. They can simultaneously remove organic contaminants and produce electricity, valuable chemicals or recover metals. Additionally, BES are being adapted with the potential to convert the greenhouse gas CO2 to valuable organic feedstock chemicals.

In BES, wastewater containing organic chemicals is fed into an anode chamber where the organics are broken down by specialised bacteria into CO2, protons and electrons. In the process, the electrons are released into the anode electrode where they move through an external circuit to the cathode electrode. In a microbial fuel cell, these electrons combine with oxygen at the cathode, and electricity is generated through the movement of electrons in the external circuit. Alternatively, the electrons can be combined with protons at the cathode to produce hydrogen in a microbial electrolysis cell, metal ions to recover pure metals, or CO2 to produce valuable organic feedstock chemicals such as formate or methanol.

In a microbial fuel cell, the system produces electricity whilst in a microbial electrolysis cell. The system produces hydrogen but requires a small amount of additional electrical energy provided by an external electrical power supply. Similarly, additional electrical energy is required for CO2 conversion to valuable organic feedstock chemicals. For metal recovery the required additional electrical energy depends on the metal being processed. The different cathode reactions in BES may require chemical or biological catalysts at the cathode to make them work.

The diagram explains the operation of BES for electricity generation (A), hydrogen recovery (B), metal recovery (C), and CO2 conversion to valuable organic feedstock chemicals (D). Wastes are highlighted in red and resources in green.

Environmental and economic benefits of BES

Newcastle University leads two major research projects focused on BES: The MeteoRR project led by Professors Ian Head and Tom Curtis in the school of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, and the LifesCO2R project led by Dr Eileen Yu and Professor Keith Scott in the school of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials.

The projects develop BES for the recovery of pure metals or valuable chemicals with market value from wastewater containing organic, metal and CO2 pollutants. This offers economic incentives for industry to adopt clean technologies as part of the circular economy.

BES technology can treat wastewaters by removing organic and metal pollutants which are harmful to living organisms, including people, in the environment. Untreated wastewater containing organics promotes microbial pathogens in the environment which can cause disease in people, whilst wastewater containing heavy metals can be toxic to human health. These wastewaters can cause adverse effects on fragile ecosystems. Additionally, using BES to remove CO2 and recover valuable organic feedstock chemicals has the additional environmental benefit of helping to combat global climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more about BES technology and the environmental and economic benefits in MeteoRR’s articles and reports.

MeteoRR is a NERC-funded project within the Resource Recovery from Waste programme. The project has teams at the universities of Newcastle, Manchester, Surrey and South Wales, and formal collaborations with researchers at Glasgow, Penn State, Ghent and Harbin. The teams work closely with industrial partners who will benefit from the research findings.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 9th January 2017.