Advanced Materials R&D: Innovating for the Future

An essential cog in the wheel of high-tech economy, the field of advanced materials research and development (R&D) plays a crucial role in driving progress and life-changing innovation across various industries.

From aerospace to biomedicine, advanced materials offer greater strength, durability, flexibility, and functionality, paving the way for new, transformative technologies, products and applications.

With the ability to convert ideas into reality, developing the advanced materials of today contributes to the groundbreaking solutions that will improve all our lives tomorrow.

In this blog post, we explore the importance of advanced materials R&D, the available funding opportunities, and uncover some of the recent breakthroughs.

What Are Advanced Materials?

The term advanced materials refers to a broad range of materials with enhanced properties that have been designed to future-proof sectors.

Some examples of advanced materials include:

  • advanced alloys such as intermetallic or high entropy;
  • particular systems such as graphene or quantum dots;
  • nanomaterials, for example, responsive with catalytic, optical or magnetic properties; and
  • novel fibres such as organic, carbon-based or inorganic.

The engineering of advanced materials supports a myriad of industries, from transport and utilities to energy, electronics and healthcare.

How Did Advanced Materials Come About?

Designing and engineering is in our DNA: the earliest species of human, our ancestors, created objects and tools from materials they found around them, such as stone, bronze, clay and bone. Fast forward several thousands of years and we reach the 20th century when the development of advanced materials originated after the discovery of atoms.

Researching how atoms worked and behaved allowed scientists and engineers to experiment with the merging of different atoms to design and create new materials from scratch. These are now referred to as advanced materials.

Why Is R&D in Advanced Materials Important?

Investing in developing the super-materials of the future allows for the continuing creation of revolutionary solutions spanning multiple sectors. This, in turn, boosts the economy and maintains the UK’s standing as a world-leader in advanced materials.

In November 2022, the UK government announced £95 million funding to support R&D of advanced materials. The Henry Royce Institute is renowned for its advanced materials research, which includes projects where waste materials have been turned into sustainable plastics and 3D bioprinting for healthcare uses such as tissue engineering in regenerative medicine. The Institute will use the funding to support and advance early-stage research in these materials.

Why Invest in Materials R&D?

Materials science is all about understanding the properties and behaviour of different materials, and finding ways to modify or enhance them for specific purposes. This can involve anything from developing new alloys, ceramics, or polymers, to designing materials at the nanoscale level. The benefits of materials R&D are numerous, including:

  • Improved performance: Advanced materials can offer superior strength, durability, flexibility, conductivity, and other key properties, making them ideal for a wide range of applications. For example, carbon fibre composites are much lighter yet stronger than traditional metals, making them ideal for aircraft and vehicles.
  • Reduced costs: Advanced materials can often reduce manufacturing costs and improve overall efficiency. New composite materials that require less energy and fewer resources to produce, for example, can help lower costs and reduce waste.
  • New applications: By developing materials with entirely new properties or characteristics, researchers can enable new technologies and applications. For instance, graphene, a two-dimensional material made of carbon atoms, is extremely lightweight, durable, and conductive, making it ideal for use in electronics, energy storage, and sensors.
  • Environmental benefits: Materials R&D can promote sustainability by enabling the use of renewable resources, reducing waste and emissions, and creating new solutions. For example, biodegradable plastics made from plant materials can help reduce plastic pollution and waste.

What Are Some Examples of R&D in Advanced Materials?

If a company is developing materials with exceptional properties for engineering applications, or developing a new technology that creates these innovative materials, then R&D is likely involved as it attempts to make an industry advancement.

Here are some examples of R&D in advanced materials:

  • Developing new products and technologies with significantly improved material properties.
  • Developing new knowledge regarding material behaviour, such as better understanding of thermal breakdown in electronic components and materials to improve service life and operational safety.
  • Modifying a material’s structure to generate improved and advanced material properties and behaviour, e.g. creating improved chemically active filtration membranes for rapid high-volume water desalination.
  • Designing advanced materials whose process of manufacture is more sustainable than what is possible currently.
  • Re-designing formulations for materials using locally sourced raw materials and precursors, whilst not compromising material properties in-application, e.g. cements for construction using supplementary materials and clinker components sourced from local deposit.
  • Developing next-generation materials for extreme environments and applications such as shielding for nuclear reactors, or spacecraft.
  • Developing materials for use in biomedical devices that accelerate manufacturing agility and improve tailoring of solutions specific to individual patients.
  • Designing novel coating and lubrication solutions to improve resilience to harsher operating conditions in critical applications such as marine or oil and gas exploration, e.g. improving drivechain lifetime and reducing maintenance requirements through developing improved greases and lubricants with novel formulations for sea vessel engines.
  • Designing more resilient containment/immobilisation technologies for the decommissioning of nuclear facilities and long-term storage of radioactive by-products and wastes.
  • Improving sustainability of the end-of-life for products you produce by redesigning and reformulation these materials for improved recycling or re-use, whilst not compromising advanced material properties.

What Are Some Recent Advances in Materials R&D?

The materials field is constantly evolving, with researchers making breakthroughs every day. Here are some recent examples of exciting advances in materials R&D:

  • Self-healing materials: Researchers have developed materials that can heal themselves when damaged, potentially extending the lifespan of products and reducing waste. For example, scientists have created a polymer that can “heal” cracks and breaks when exposed to sunlight or UV light.
  • Smart materials: Materials that can sense and respond to changes in their environment, such as temperature or pressure, are gaining traction in various industries. For instance, researchers have developed “shape-memory” materials that can change shape or recover their original shape under specific conditions, opening up new possibilities in biomedical implants and aerospace applications.
  • Sustainable materials: The development of sustainable materials is a major focus of R&D efforts, with researchers exploring new ways to use waste, recycled, or renewable materials. For example, scientists have created a new material by upcycling PET bottles, which can be used for insulation, clothing, and other applications.
  • Nanomaterials: Materials at the nanoscale level offer unprecedented control over chemical and physical properties, enabling new technologies and applications. For example, researchers use nanoparticles to improve implant success, purify water and to create flexible electronics.
  • Bio-inspired materials: By taking inspiration from nature, researchers are creating materials with unique properties, such as self-healing, strength, and flexibility. For example, researchers are studying the structure and function of spider silk to create artificial spider silk that can be used in textiles, medicine, and other applications.
  • Quantum materials: Quantum materials are materials designed to take advantage of quantum phenomena, such as superconductivity and quantum entanglement. These materials have the potential to revolutionise fields such as computing, sensing, and energy.

How Can You Fund R&D in Advanced Materials?

There are various forms of innovation funding available to enable advanced materials R&D to take place, including grant funding and tax relief.

Grants, usually non-repayable, are awarded by funding bodies prior to any innovation taking place, whilst tax relief is a retrospective incentive, claimable after the accounting period in which the R&D took place.

Grant Funding

Any business that’s investing time and resources into innovative R&D in the UK can apply for and access UK/EU grant funding.

There are various funding bodies, such as Innovate UK and the European Innovation Council, which provide funding competitions for businesses to access funding to innovate and grow.

Patent Box

The patent box is a government tax relief scheme that rewards companies for investing in innovation. If a company is making a profit on patented inventions, it’s eligible for a lower effective corporation tax rate of 10% on relevant profits.

What’s more, if a company is eligible for the patent box tax relief regime, it’s likely that it’s also eligible for R&D tax relief.

R&D Tax Relief

HMRC’s R&D tax relief scheme rewards businesses that are seeking an advance within their industry.

R&D tax credits can be claimed by businesses that are developing new systems, products or processes, or modifying existing ones, which in turn create a scientific or technological advancement.

Your Innovation Funding Partner

By investing in materials science, we can create new solutions, improve efficiency, and promote sustainability. With exciting breakthroughs and new possibilities on the horizon, the future of materials R&D looks promising.

Ryan’s award-winning team of innovation funding specialists support companies on their innovation journey to achieve the funding they need to develop the advanced materials that will contribute to the revolutionary products, services and engineered solutions that will improve all our lives.

Our Advanced Materials Specialist:

Mehul Kyprianou-Chavda – Senior Manager, R&D Technical

Mehul is a published scientist and engineer with a doctorate in materials science, having worked in the aerospace, automotive, defence and mass-transit application spaces. He has worked on the development of several leading-edge materials technologies such as cementing chemistries for immobilisation of nuclear wastes and the industrial scaleup of manufacturing technologies for graphene.

He has worked across large multidisciplinary teams on flagship R&D projects with leading academics and industrialists and has been successful in accelerating projects through technology readiness levels to industrial commercialisation.

Mehul leads a team of specialist tax consultants across the country who are experts in identifying and claiming innovation incentives, including R&D tax relief, R&D allowances, and patent box, with specialisms in engineering (automotive, materials, civil, software, electronic and chemical), and construction.

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