Porous materials network launched at the University of Bath

A new porous materials research network will bring together diverse research from across disciplines to design new materials and understand how they can be applied in a range of important applications including renewable energy, drug delivery and water filtration.

A close up of a white ceramic coated sponge created by nanotechnology R&D
A close up of a white ceramic coated sponge created by nanotechnology R&D - Image © AREE - Adobe Stock.

The Engineering Porous Materials at Multiple Scales (EPoMM) network, which is based at the UK’s University of Bath and led by Professor Chris Bowen from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, will connect experts for workshops, discussions and an annual conference, while engaging with businesses to advise on and tackle industrial challenges.

The field of porous materials is incredibly diverse and includes inorganic materials, organic polymers, synthetic frameworks, biological tissues and composite systems. The variety of applications is equally wide-ranging, and includes renewable energy, separation processes, controlled release, carbon capture, catalysis, water purification, electronic materials, and medicine.

Prof Bowen said: “Porous materials are all around us – so there is a huge scope to make impacts by finding new approaches to developing new materials and looking for efficiencies or knowledge sharing around challenges in many different areas, and in speeding up innovation.

“EPoMM exists to bring together people who wouldn’t normally meet – for example experts in smart materials and experts in gas storage. By doing that, we want to improve understanding around materials and problem solving that can be applied to work on a range of scales – from atomic, cell-level and molecular scales to large-scale settings that are used in the order or tonnes and larger.

“The impacts we are looking to make could be in the areas of catalysis and separation of chemicals, discovery and manufacture of drugs and renewable energy. Some of the things we will be looking at will include how a porous material could carry out the work of an energy-intensive water purification plant at a much lower energy cost.”

Multidisciplinary collaborations with a special emphasis on combining expertise across different length scales will be at the heart of the network and by the end of the grant period Prof Bowen says EPoMM will have established a self-sustaining network of porous media experts who are able to work collaboratively to respond to industry needs, provide dissemination and horizon scanning for new and emerging applications.

Application areas include catalysis, energy, transport, healthcare, electronics and advanced sensors, aligning with the University of Bath’s key research themes of sustainability, health and wellbeing, and digital.

The network builds on the South West Porous Materials Symposia held in 2019–21, and a Bath-led GW4 Generator Award (£15,000) that helped to create the GWPore community across the UK universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter and Cardiff. GWPore initially developed new connections across research groups and research areas to create a critical mass of world-leading researchers with interests in porous materials to address the global challenge areas in this field.

EPoMM was set up with the support of the University of Bath Research and Innovation Services team and will also be supported by Dr Alex O’Malley from the Department of Chemistry.

This project is funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Network Initiative. The main objective of Networks is to create new interdisciplinary research communities and topics, by developing interaction between the research community and appropriate science, technology and industrial groups.