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Reducing the environmental impact of a loaf of bread: SUMS leads interdisciplinary project

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

With an estimated 12 million loaves sold in the UK every day, bread remains a staple of the British diet. In a groundbreaking study researchers from the University of Sheffield have now calculated the environmental impact of a loaf of bread and which part of its production contributes the most greenhouse gas.

The group of interdisciplinary researchers from the University’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, including three experts from Sheffield University Management School (SUMS), analysed the complete process from growing and harvesting the wheat; milling the grain; producing the flour; baking the bread and the production of the final product, ready to be sold by retailers.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Plants, show ammonium nitrate fertiliser used in wheat cultivation contributes almost half (43 per cent) of the greenhouse gas emissions – dwarfing all other processes in the supply chain.

Dr Liam Goucher, N8 Agrifood Research Fellow from the University of Sheffield who carried out the study and is based at SUMS, said: “Consumers are usually unaware of the environmental impacts embodied in the products they purchase – particularly in the case of food, where the main concerns are usually over health or animal welfare. There is perhaps awareness of pollution caused by plastic packaging, but many people will be surprised at the wider environmental impacts revealed in this study.

“We found in every loaf there is embodied global warming resulting from the fertiliser applied to farmers’ fields to increase their wheat harvest. This arises from the large amount of energy needed to make the fertilizer and from nitrous oxide gas released when it is degraded in the soil.”

How to produce sufficient healthy and affordable food for the world’s growing and more demanding population, whilst protecting the environment is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. It is estimated that up to 60 per cent of agricultural crops are now grown with the use of fertilisers. Although they can dramatically boast the growth of plants and vegetables – assisting the growing demand of food yields – fertilisers consist of substances and chemicals such as methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and nitrogen. The emissions from these substances in synthetic fertilisers contribute to greenhouse gases.

Professor Peter Horton FRS, Chief Research Advisor to the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield and corresponding author of the paper, said: “Our findings bring into focus a key part of the food security challenge – resolving the major conflicts embedded in the agri-food system, whose primary purpose is to make money not to provide sustainable global food security.

“High agricultural productivity – necessary for profit for farmers, agri-businesses and food retailers, whilst also keeping prices low for consumers – currently requires high levels of application of relatively cheap fertilisers.”

He added: “With over 100 million tonnes of fertiliser used globally each year to support agricultural production this is a massive problem, but environmental impact is not costed within the system and so there are currently no real incentives to reduce our reliance on fertiliser.

“How to achieve sustainable global food security is not only a technical question but a political economic one, and requires interdisciplinary research of the kind we do here at Sheffield.”

The study was made possible by a pioneering collaboration with the agricultural and food manufacturing sector developed by Richard Bruce, a co-author of the paper and Business Engagement Lead for the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield.

The data analysed in the study was processed using an advanced life-cycle assessment tool – SCEnAT – developed by Professor Lenny Koh, Director of the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the University’s Management School and co-author of the paper.

“This tool handles large and complex data sets and yielding data on the environmental impact, including greenhouse gas emissions of all the stages in the supply chain,” said Professor Koh. “The tool identifies the processes that yield the most impact – the hotspots. The findings raise a very important issue – whose responsibility is it to bring about the implementation of these interventions: the fertiliser manufacturer, the farmer, the retailer or the consumer?

“There is a growing recognition for a range of industrial processes of the notion of extended producer responsibility – the producer being responsible for downstream impact, expanded to the idea of shared producer and consumer responsibility. The consumer is key, whether being persuaded to pay more for a greener product or by applying pressure for a change in practice.”

The paper also highlights the solutions available which could potentially reduce these impacts in the future.

Co-author Professor Duncan Cameron, Co-director of the P3 Centre for Translational Plant and Soil Science explains: “The fertiliser problem is solvable – through improved agronomic practices”.

“These harness the best of organic farming combined with new technologies to better monitor the nutritional status of soils and plants and to recycle waste and with the promise of new wheat varieties able to utilise soil nitrogen more efficiently”.

Click here to read the paper in full.

SUMS Prof calls for industry intervention to reduce toxicological footprint

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Lenny Koh

Scientists are calling for an increase in sustainable and less toxic material in global manufacturing as one way of firms reducing their toxicological footprint and combating climate change.

Research led by Professor Lenny Koh at the Management School and published in Nature Scientific Reports highlights toxicity and its impact on climate change.

By analysing data from the Toxic Release Inventory of the United States (US), Prof Koh’s team identified some key interventions to mitigate toxic chemical release’s impact on climate change – the analysis quantifies the contribution of population growth, changes in consumption volume, consumption structure, production structure and changes in emissions intensity on toxicology footprint. The findings will be helpful for decision makers to understand toxic chemical release and formulate effective mitigation standards and management protocols.

They found that there are many external influences on the US’s toxicological footprint, including economic recession and recovery patterns, population growth, change in consumption volume, production structure and emission intensity, all of which provide a narrative in explaining why and how toxicological footprint fluctuates in the data – for example, between 1999 and 2006 the toxicological footprint of the US decreased by 42 per cent, mainly driven by improvement in emissions intensity in the mining and quarrying sector.

Prof Koh, Director of Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the University of Sheffield, said: “We often see carbon dioxide levels and emissions measured, but toxicity also affects the environment and is rarely reported.

“In addition to understanding the drivers of the US’s toxicological footprint dynamics, our analysis assesses the efficacy of different drivers to reduce it in the future. Our results show the prominence the mining and quarrying sector in emissions, so I propose that a sectorial-focused approach should be designed to address reduction.”

Prof Ian Reaney, co-author from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said: “This study has highlighted the strategic importance of understanding toxic chemical release, emphasising the need for more sustainable and less toxic materials and materials extraction in global manufacturing.”

Prof Klaus Hubacek, co-author from the University of Maryland, said: “This international collaboration provides an excellent base to advance our understanding of efficiency and structural aspects of an economy and their impact on the toxicological footprint.”

Click here to read the paper in full.

New analysis tool will help economy move towards a low-carbon and sustainable future

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

scenati

An analytics tool from the University of Sheffield, built in partnership with one of the world’s biggest technology companies, is helping decision makers understand the full environmental impact of their supply chains and the potential consequences of their decisions.

SCEnATi, the improved version of the SCEnAT supply chain environmental analysis tool, now integrates with the Microsoft cloud technology platform, Azure. It outputs on a world map geographic carbon dioxide emissions and environmental impact across global supply chains.

This powerful data visualisation – along with country profiles and sustainability contribution information – helps policy makers, planners, investors and industrialists understand the impact of their supply chains by calculating carbon dioxide emission intensity and environmental impact using life-cycle analysis.

As part of the improvements, SCEnATi has also been enhanced with advanced business intelligence analytics capability from the Microsoft Power BI platform, which works with Shaping Cloud on an Office 365 platform.

Teresa Hitchcock, Partner at global law firm DLA Piper where SCEnATi was launched said: “I am delighted to see the evolution of this research capability led by the University of Sheffield, especially the work from Professor Koh and her team. Being an industry member of the AREC committee, we have been involved in the work as part of a co-production process. I believe this tool will be an important enabler to assist key stakeholders in their transition to a low carbon and sustainable future globally and to support their compliance to environmental regulation and policy.”

Professor Lenny Koh, Chair in Operations Management at Sheffield University Management School and Director of Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre (AREC), said: “The supply chain resource sustainability model demonstrated in SCEnATi is powered by advanced technology and will grow our understanding of global challenges on resources critical in supply chains. The science which underpins SCEnATi has been published in top journals whilst the technology, provided by our strategic partner Microsoft, provides a flexible, secure environment for our users.”

Mike Davies, Higher Education Manager from Microsoft, continued: “SCEnATi automates data capture using Microsoft Excel where Office 365 supports complete mobility to enable users to use the tool as part of their routine package.

Steve Beswick, Education Business Development Director from Microsoft, said: “It is compatible with a range of our devices including Surface and Hubs. The built-in touch capability in this tool gives complete flexibility to users to access the tool anytime and anywhere.”

Carlos Oliveira, CEO of Shaping Cloud concluded: “The science and technology supporting SCEnATi is world leading. It is a great example of how academic research can be translated into a tangible piece of IP, which we believe can deliver real change and impact worldwide.”

Click here to find out more about SCEnATi: http://www.scenat.com/

Study demonstrates how academia and business can ensure sustainability of resources

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Lenny Koh

Collaboration between business and academia can identify the most urgent research priorities to ensure the sustainability of food, energy, water and the environment, according to a new study.

Companies both depend upon and impact the environment, yet their perspectives are often overlooked by the research community which lacks access to business thinking. Equally, businesses find it challenging to engage with the academic community, and to define researchable questions that would benefit from more detailed analysis.

This study, convened by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), engaged over 250 people, including Prof Lenny Koh from the Management School and companies such as Asda, EDF Energy, HSBC and Nestlé, to co-produce research priorities that are scientifically feasible and also include outputs that can be practically implemented by the business community.

The project is part of the work of the Nexus Network, a network of researchers and stakeholders coordinated by CICL, the University of Sheffield, the University of Sussex, the University of East Anglia and the University of Exeter, and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Prof Koh, co-author of the study and director of the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre at the University of Sheffield, said: “This collaborative research shapes interesting research priorities using the nexus approach on food, energy, water and the environment. The co-design by leading academics and industry provides strategic directions to help address the global natural resources sustainability challenges. With the backing from ESRC, the nexus approach gives a platform to consider these challenges in an integrated way.”

“It links to the mission of the Sheffield University Management School, which integrates sustainability throughout its vibrant environments on research, learning and wider impact. Our involvement in Nexus2020 research is an excellent example demonstrating our sustainability leadership in this field.”

Several themes emerged from this study, highlighting the issues that require more research and better engagement between the academic and business communities. These included research around development of pragmatic yet credible tools that allow businesses to incorporate the interactions between food, energy and water demands in a changing environment into their decision-making; the role of social considerations and livelihoods in business decision-making in relation to sustainable management; identification of the most effective levers for behaviour change; and understanding incentives or circumstances that allow individuals and businesses to take a leadership stance on these issues.

It will be the role of multi-disciplinary groups of researchers and business practitioners to devise the projects that will deliver the solutions to these pressing issues around food, energy, water and the environment.

The damage is already done: Greater environmental risks identified in ‘green’ material

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Lenny Koh

Expertise from a University of Sheffield research team, comprising two leading departments, has used life cycle analysis to find that legislation proposing the replacement of a common material has led to wider use of an even more toxic substance.

Professors Ian Reaney (Materials Science and Engineering) and Lenny Koh (Management School, pictured above) undertook the first comparative life cycle analysis of piezoelectric materials as part of an EPSRC project. Their findings indicate that a replacement for lead zirconate titanate (PZN), recommended by global authorities due to its green credentials, is more dangerous to the environment.

The mining and production process for the recommended replacement, potassium sodium niobate (KNN), releases heavy metals and radioactive materials and has a significant adverse effect on air quality, water quality and the land. By applying life cycle analysis to both materials, Reaney and Koh were able to identify that harmful effects of KNN took hold on the environment prior to using the material – the damage was done before it even reached manufacturers meaning that EU legislators could have been unaware of its implications.

These findings will have a significant impact on global policy and the manufacturing sector. Piezoelectric materials are used in a wide array of products and projects including sensors, military hardware, generators and smart structures – global demand for the material is estimate at $1billion with an annual growth rate ten per cent.

Prof Koh, co-investigator on the research, said: “Our findings demonstrate the pivotal role of life cycle analysis in determining the environmental sustainability of substitutions of materials. Materials scientists, engineers and industry must consider the life cycle impact of materials in design and manufacture before deciding on the preferred substituted choice. Legislative bodies play a leading role in enforcing such responsibility in order to protect the scarcity and criticality of materials resources and prevent unsustainable practices.”

The main findings of this study were recently published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the Energy and Environmental Science Journal. Lead author on the paper, Dr Taofeeq Ibn-Mohammed, is an ESPRC research associate and works with Professor Koh at two centres linked with the Management School, the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre and the Centre for Energy, Environment and Sustainability. Of the work, he said: “Overall, the research demonstrates that application of life cycle analysis and supply chain management to a strategic engineering question allows industries and policy makers to make informed decisions regarding the environmental consequences of substitute materials, designs, fabrication processes and usage.”

Professor Reaney, principal investigator on the project, concluded: “The research has strong implications for future legislation concerning piezoelectrics within the European Union and worldwide.”

Management School to assist in design of major new Pilot Plant

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

The UK Centre for Carbon Utilisation (CDUUK) at the University of Sheffield recently won a competitive tender to join a team to design a new carbon capture and utilisation plant for the Tees Valley. The contract pairs the University of Sheffield with the Teeside Collective a pioneering infrastructure project who are at the forefront of innovative carbon capture and usage technology. The collective are working together to establish Europe’s first clean industrial zone. Prof Lenny Koh, chair in operations management at the Management School, is a member of the CDUUK board.

CDUUK are academic specialists from across seven departments (Chemical and Biological Engineering, Materials Science Engineering, Mechanical Science, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, Management School and Psychology) who will bring a range of interdisciplinary expertise to the Collective. CDUUK will be designing the demonstration centre and commercial and operating models of this ground breaking project.

The move comes as the Government formulates its policy on decarbonisation in the light of the cancellation in November of funding for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in the power sector. A policy review is due to be published by Lord Oxburgh, who visited Teesside to hear about the Collective’s plans as part of his review.

Professor Peter Styring, Chair of CDUUK, commented: “The impact of the proposed carbon capture and utilisation demonstration centre cannot be underestimated, helping more heavy industrial companies decarbonise their facilities and explore innovative uses for carbon and income streams. Utilisation of CO2 is gaining momentum globally and this will put the UK at the forefront of that effort”

CDUUK provides a cohesive centre for interdisciplinary research into carbon dioxide utilization in Sheffield. Using a co-ordinated approach to research and a strategic approach to funding opportunities the Centre is at the forefront of CDU research in the UK.

Teesside Collective are a cluster of leading industries with a shared vision: to establish Teesside as the go-to location for future clean industrial development by creating Europe’s first Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) equipped industrial zone. Tees Valley Unlimited, the Local Enterprise Partnership which includes the Teesside industrial cluster, has been awarded £1m funding by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change to develop a business case for deploying industrial CCS in the Teesside cluster and to make recommendations for a funding mechanism.

Making the sustainable choice – embedding Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) in the materials and manufacturing supply chain

Friday, April 29th, 2016

Tata-Brimacombe-SUMS

A fascinating partnership between researchers at the Management School and the Faculty of Engineering led to a recent sell-out event, with industry leaders at the heart of it.

A number of industry delegates from throughout Europe joined academics at the University of Sheffield on 22 April 2016 for the Materials Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) Workshop, a one-day event organised jointly between the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre (AREC) and EPSRC funded projects ‘Designing Alloys for Resource Efficiency’ (DARE) and ‘Substitution and Sustainability in Functional Materials and Devices’ (SUbST).

The morning consisted of presentations on major materials innovation projects and real industry cases, given by leading academics and representatives from industry, focusing on the current and future trends of LCA and how this can aid decision-making to achieve resource efficiency and sustainability in an organisation.

The keynote presentation was given by Louis Brimacombe, head of environmental technology at Tata Steel, who explained how LCA has a role in understanding the benefits of a circular economy, where not only environmental considerations but also the social and economic performances of a material are crucial for making sustainable decisions.

Following his presentation, Louis Brimacombe (pictured above) said: “LCA is core in achieving sustainability across supply chains. It not only helps industry makes informed decisions, but identifies where we can improve resource efficiency, sustainability and circular economy.”

During the afternoon, delegates split into working groups to discuss current issues including: why current materials life cycle is not sustainable; how science and research can help to make it more sustainable in the future; the stakeholders who should be involved, and the support and resources required to achieve this. Feedback from this session introduced some exciting new ideas and concepts.

At the end of the workshop one of the main organisers of the event, Professor Lenny Koh from Sheffield University Management School, who is also the director of AREC, said: “This event, which delegates agree should become annual, has evidenced the important role and influence of supply chain LCA in resource efficiency and the sustainability of materials supply chains in flagship projects at the University of Sheffield, including DARE, SUbST and SIMULIFE. LCA must be designed into the development stages of any new materials or products/services to search for the most sustainable option before scale-up. For existing materials, products and services, their life cycle must be continuously assessed through LCA.”

Presentations and a summary of breakout discussions will be posted at www.darealloys.org/news in the next few days.

 

For information on the following, email:
AREC and LCA: Lenny Koh (s.c.l.koh@sheffield.ac.uk)
DARE: Mark Rainforth (m.rainforth@sheffield.ac.uk) or Jean Simpson (jean.simpson@sheffield.ac.uk)
SUbST: Ian Reaney (i.m.reaney@sheffield.ac.uk)

From the plough to the plate: reducing environmental impact and improving efficiency

Friday, December 11th, 2015

One of Britain’s biggest and best-loved bread makers has joined forces with University researchers and a leading agricultural intelligence provider, to better understand the impact its activities are having on the environment – from the plough to the plate.

“It’s important for Hovis to know where the environmental hotspots in their supply chain are,” says Management School supply chain and energy efficiency researcher, Dr Liam Goucher. “By working with us, we can help them identify those hotspots and develop targeted solutions that both reduce the impact on the environment and make them more efficient as a company.”

Using real-world data ranging from the energy consumption of its ovens and mills, to the volume of fertiliser used on its farmers’ fields, members of a multidisciplinary research team are now undertaking analysis using the Supply Chain Environmental Analysis Tool (SCEnAT) developed by Professor Lenny Koh at the University’s Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre.

“This tool allows us to pin point where the weak points in a supply chain are and assess their impact across a range of environmental indicators,” says Professor Koh. Early results, which are currently being poured over by Hovis and independent agricultural intelligence services company, Agrii.

“What makes this project especially interesting to a company like Hovis, is that once we have identified and quantified environmental impact throughout the supply chain, the members of our multidisciplinary team are able to develop viable and sustainable interventions to address key problem areas,” says Dr Liam Goucher, who has undertaken much of the original research.

Whether it is a way to reduce the energy inputs needed to bake the more than 60 million loaves annually in a single bakery, or the development of novel seed varieties and production techniques, the Sheffield team has the intellectual resource to design these solutions.

But for biochemist, Professor Peter Horton, of the University’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, this specific piece of research has much wider implications. “We know that big challenges such as sustainable food production will not be met by research within a single discipline. That’s why we are so passionate about the integration of science, engineering and social science here at Sheffield. By creating teams like this we can not only identify the problems, we can also design the sustainable solutions,” he added.

Recycling e-waste worth up to 3.7 billion euros to Europe

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Lenny Koh

Recycling waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) more effectively could be worth up to 3.7 billion euros to the European market as well as reducing environmental pollution, an award winning research paper has found.

Professor Lenny Koh from the Management School along with colleagues Federica Cucciella, Idiano D’Adomo and Paolo Rosa from the University of L’Aquila and Politecnico di Milano have recently published a paper entitled ‘Recycling of WEEEs: an economic assessment of present and future e-waste streams’.

Waste electrical and electronic equipment is currently considered to be one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world, with an estimated growth rate between three and five per cent each year.

Professor Koh, Director of Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre (AREC) and a world leading expert on low carbon supply chains, said: “We have been working on the collaborative research for several years with the University of L’Aquila and Politecnico di Milano. This builds from our prior research on turning waste into resource, resource efficiency and circular economy.

“In particular, this research has strong relevance to addressing global issues of materials availability and security, reducing reliance on unused non-renewable materials, especially precious, critical and rare earth materials in manufacturing for sustainability and for consideration for substitution.”

The paper presents a comprehensive framework supporting the decision-making process of multiple electronic recycling centres. The assessment defined the potential revenues coming from the recovery of valuable materials, such as gold and platinum, in 14 electronic items including notebooks, monitors, smartphones, hard drives and tablets using current and future disposed quantities in Europe.

It found that recycling electronic waste was equal to 2.15 billion euros in overall potential revenue to the European market in 2014 and could rise to 3.67 billion euros by 2020. As well as providing a significant source of revenue, more effective recovery of materials could benefit the environment by reducing manufacturers’ reliance on unprocessed resources.

Professor Koh added: “The recycling of e-waste could allow the diminishing use of virgin resources in manufacturing and, consequently, it could contribute in reducing environmental pollution.

“Given that EU has tried over the last two decades to develop a circular economy based on the exploitation of resources recovered by wastes, this research is key evidence to influence both industry and government on the financial and economic value of materials recovery of WEEE.”

With the development of new electronic items and waste set to increase, the research highlights the need for manufacturers and recycling centres to work more closely together in order to recover more material from disposed equipment. It also recommends needed the development of more flexible recycling plants able to intercept different types of end of life products.

Following publication earlier this month, the research has been recognised by academic publisher Elsevier with the prestigious Atlas Award.

The award recognises scientific research that has an impact on people around the world and is selected by an advisory board based on suggestions from the publishers of Elsevier’s 1,800 journals each month.

Professor Gill Valentine, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences, said: “I am delighted to hear that Professor Koh and her colleagues have been recognised with the Elsevier Atlas Award. This insightful work demonstrates the significant impact research here at the University can have on our world and the environment.”

An award ceremony for the presentation of the Elsevier Atlas Award will be announced soon.

Reboot for City Region’s Low Carbon Sector

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

New leadership team to drive the region’s low carbon sector forward

Significant changes are underway within Sheffield City Region’s low carbon sector – the team responsible for representing the sustainability and low carbon sectors across the Sheffield City Region have chosen three new Chairs to lead the group for the next 12 months. The Group will also be rebranded to become the Sustainability Partnership for Business, Innovation and Skills Group.

Professor Lenny Koh (University of Sheffield), Oliver Coppard (Sheffield City Region LEP) and Teresa Hitchcock (DLA Piper) will represent the education, public and private sectors respectively as co-chairs of the group, elected by their peers from the sector.

Professor Koh said:

“We’re really thrilled to be taking on the challenge of driving this sector forward in Sheffield City Region. Given what is going on at a national and international level, the opportunity to develop a thriving, growing sector could not be bigger or more exciting.

“Over the coming weeks and months our priority will be to listen to as many voices as we can from across the region’s businesses, innovation hubs, local authorities and third sector organisations, so that we know exactly what our industry needs from the Sheffield City Region if we’re going to move forward.

“With the Northern Powerhouse and the devolution agenda moving forward so quickly, there is a real, once in a generation chance to get the support from government that our low carbon sector needs. There are some big challenges ahead, but with the right support we really can exploit our well-earned global reputation for excellence and innovation.”    

The Partnership will continue feeding into the Sheffield City Region growth plan, through initiatives such as the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre (AREC), run by Professor Koh, Teresa Hitchcock will represent the Partnership at the Local Enterprise Partnership Sector Group meetings and Oliver will link in and ensure good collaboration with local and national public sector bodies.

Over the coming months, the new Chairs of the Partnership have committed to a ‘leadership and learning’ model, engaging with the wider low carbon sector through a series of events and meetings across the region.

The first outing for the new look group will be at the launch of the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre’s (AREC) SCEnAT+ tool in London on the 24 Sept 2015 sponsored by Microsoft. The AREC is a University of Sheffield project led by Professor Koh that seeks to develop resource efficiency within the advanced materials and manufacturing, energy, agritech and food, healthcare and transport industries.