47 Projects, page 1 of 10
Biology will lie at the heart of many 21st century technologies to sustainably address the numerous challenges facing societies such as waste, energy, water, healthcare, new chemicals and materials, and agriculture. This ambitious project seeks to develop a suite of universal principles and models for the scalable simulation of open biological systems thereby allowing the engineering of new functionalities offered by natural or synthetic, mainly micro-, organisms for the benefit of mankind. We live in a world that is increasingly urbanising and populated putting many pressures on the globe and its natural resources. One of the biggest challenges is sustaining global health, prosperity and well-being in a way that does not harm societies requiring these benefits nor the earth's natural resources. In the last two centuries, engineering has been central in providing the infrastructure and resources responsible for these societal gains. The engineering challenge in the 21st century is to continue to make these, and new, provisions for more people in a more sustainable way. Thomas Tredgold, the first President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, defined engineering as "the art of directing the great sources of Power in Nature for the use and benefit of mankind". Engineering has expanded as it has sought and exploited new sources of Power in Nature and new concepts and tools by which said sources can be manipulated. Many believe that Biology is the next source of Power and that Engineering Biology it will be central to our goal of generating a new suite of intrinsically sustainable technologies. However, there is a substantial gap between rhetoric and reality in many accounts of the application of engineering biology. We will only open up this frontier if we are a brutally honest about the limitations, astute in our analysis of the bottlenecks and effective in innovations to obviate them. Though this is a contemporary challenge, it is something engineers have always done, using mathematical models and scientific principles to winnow the pipe dreams from the awesome but achievable (Rankine, 1855). One of the greatest limitations in biology is taking what is possible in the test-tube and making it a reality in the reactor or environment; using relatively cheap resources and in the face of a large and highly diverse natural microbial population. In this project, we seek to use the best scientific principles and theories to develop a suite of universal principles and models for the scalable simulation of open biological systems. These models will allow the engineering design of new functionalities offered by natural or synthetic organisms for the benefit of mankind for a range of technologies addressing a range of different challenges.
'The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures' examines the nature of environmental 'connectivities' since industrialization and how their legacies challenge us in the early 21st century. Environmental connectivity denotes our understanding of how place, livelihood and community is moulded by interacting processes of multiple spatial scale and different durations, that link local actions to the 'planetary system'. These understandings relate to how infrastructure and its environmental impacts generate new distances but, equally, fresh bonds between places, peoples, institutions and cultures. Our understanding of connectivity also engages with how the construction and sustainment of human communities creates a landscape that can facilitate or interrupt the interactions of species, biodiversity and the resilience of socio-cultural and natural worlds. We will examine how different environmental narratives are deployed in particular places and contexts; how these narratives interact; how they seek to link communities and their environmental impacts; how they connect designated environmental 'experts' and a variety of publics and policymakers; and how, in turn, they shape identities and forge new communities of understanding, shared infrastructure and political action. We will also consider shared negative experiences that affect community resilience, social learning and environmental policy response. We will examine how notions of the 'environmental' and 'natural' categorize spaces and demarcate what is worthy of protection, privileging certain ideas of what is valued in nature and how ecological and socio-cultural connections work. In particular, we explore the transformative role of technology across a range of liquid and energy environments - from the manipulation of the Tyne and proposed harnessing of the Severn to the drainage of Peak District mines and massive electricity delivery systems such as pylons. We can do fullest justice to these questions and this approach through a series of integrated studies that probe key aspects of environmental connectivity in the 20th century and beyond (backwards and forwards). This will allow us to appreciate commonalities and contrasts in environmental experience, and how these relate to specific times, places and communities, as well as social, educational and informational experiences. The project consists of 3 strands focusing on different types of connectivity, all rooted in considerations of power and energy. 1. River systems and their connected bio-physical, energetic, commercial and cultural flows (with reference to Tyne and Severn). 2. Infrastructure and energy systems/sectors and their connected sites of generation, transmission and consumption (with reference to the national grid's emergence and the energy environments of 20th century Somerset). 3. The infrastructure of constructed watercourses and how they connect notions of natural and cultural heritage and watercourses above and below ground (with reference to soughs [drainage channels/artificial rivers] in Derbyshire's former lead mining district). Each strand contributes to the generation of consequential new syntheses of environmental history and environmental thought in Britain, demonstrating the historical development and contingency of 'environmental connectivity', but also their place- and context-specific character. These endeavours hook up with themes highlighted in the 'Care for the Future' and 'Connected Communities' programmes. What kind of future envisioning, and possibilities for progress toward sustainable development or risks of degradation and dissolution, are associated with particular forms of environmental connectivity? How far are people and communities aware of connections undergirding their lives? What kind of responsibilities and ideas of stewardship/ownership has this conferred on individuals, systems of knowledge generation, institutions, and, indeed, the 'forces of nature'.
Ageing infrastructure is an increasing economic and environmental problem. Economic because, while the production cost of one cubic metre of concrete varies between £45 - £55, it is estimated that currently the direct cost for repairing/maintaining one cubic metre of the same material is around £100. Environmental because production of cement generates 5 to 8% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Counteracting the degradation of concrete would lower the requirement for new materials and thus reduce the consumption of resources and the emission of greenhouse gases. Engineers have proposed a revolutionary solution, which was inspired by nature: self-healing materials able to self-repair as a result of the metabolic activity of bacteria. The main mechanism of concrete healing is the microbial-induced precipitation of calcium carbonate (MICP), which fills the cracks of the damaged material. However, the current approach in microbial self-healing concrete technology is to identify a few species of bacteria that work for limited sets of concretes and environments, and to optimise their MICP performance incrementally by experiments. This leads to solutions that are poorly transferable to new applications, unless new costly experimental campaigns are undertaken. In this proposal we aim to provide a new theoretical basis to predict the most promising combinations of bacteria and concrete, once the application-specific chemical compositions of the concrete of the surrounding environment are identified. This will establish a new paradigm for the digital design of concrete-bacteria systems and will enable technology transfer across the constructions sector. The approach we propose entails two main steps: 1) developing and validating the world-first simulator of bacterial self-healing in concrete, starting from the length-scale of a single crack (1-100 micrometres) and then transferring information on the kinetics of self-healing to macroscale simulations of concrete mechanics; 2) using the new simulator to inform an experimental campaign aimed at optimising the formulation of self-healing concrete for application in the aggressive chemical environment of an industrial wastewater treatment. The new simulator will be obtained by building on three existing state-of-the-art simulators that have been very recently developed at Newcastle and Cardiff universities and that model, to date separately, the three main steps involved in self-healing: i) bacterial growth; ii) kinetic evolution of an aggregate of mineral particles immersed in a solution; and iii) macro-mechanics of concrete elements with evolving strength and stiffness. The experiments will first provide inputs to the simulations and data for their validation. These experiments will be carried out in university laboratories and will address all the relevant length scales, from the nanoscale of the morphology of the mineral phases in concrete, to the microscale of the self-healing process inside single cracks, to the macroscale of self-healing concrete samples. The validated simulations will be run predictively to simulate the environmental conditions inside a wastewater treatment plant. The simulations will identify the best combinations of bacteria and concrete chemistry to ensure self-healing in such conditions, and the final experiments will produce the simulation-guided self-healing concrete and test their performance in the facilities of our industrial partner Northumbrian Water. If successful, this project will provide a completely new way to approach the design of self-healing materials via simulations. This would drastically reduce the cost, time, and uncertainty related to developing these materials, enhancing the rate of progress in the field by orders of magnitude and putting the UK at the forefront worldwide in this new technology.
A water quality biosensor will be comprehensively tested in real-world conditions, progressing towards Technology Readiness Level TRL 7 (demonstration in an operating environment at pre-commercial scale). The prototype sensor under development has arisen as a result from previous projects funded by NERC, EPSRC and BBSRC/IUK. Bioelectrochemical Systems (BES) technology, incorporating an electrode-supported microbial biofilm which generates electricity from oxidation of organics, has great potential for low-cost, real-time sensing applications. The magnitude of the electrical current generated correlates with the biodegradable organic loading (e.g. Biochemical Oxygen Demand; BOD) and conversely the signal is inhibited when toxic compounds are present. Using a novel configuration of multi-stage BES sensors developed by Newcastle University, the sensor is capable of measuring an extended BOD range and can explicitly distinguish BOD and toxicity events. The sensor will be used to monitor organic load/BOD and toxicity levels in real-time on wastewater provisioned from a real-world, wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Long-term monitoring data will be collected over one year and used to inform design and build of a combined sensor package, which will propel the technology towards commercial realisation.
The ToOLTuBES project (Toxicity & Organic Load Tracking using BioElectrochemical Systems) will advance the development of a water quality biosensor towards technology readiness level TRL 7 (demonstration in an operating environment at pre-commercial scale). BES technology, which incorporates an electrode-supported microbial biofilm that generates electricity from oxidation of organics, and has great potential for low-cost, real-time sensing applications. The magnitude of the electrical current generated correlates with the organic loading and conversely when toxic compounds are present the signal is inhibited. The sensor will be used to monitor organic load and toxicity levels in real-time on wastewater influent samples from a real-world, wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Long-term monitoring data will be collected over two years and used to inform design and cohesion of a combined sensor package, which will propel the technology towards commercial realisation.