Leeds Beckett engineers collaborate to develop innovative new products using NHS healthcare waste

Leeds Beckett University and Q Medical Technologies Limited have secured Government funding to develop and commercialise innovative new products repurposing healthcare waste.

The team will begin by commercialising new, low-carbon aggregate substitutes known as floc – repurposed and treated, clinical and offensive NHS waste – which are in demand for use in civil engineering.

Dr Ash Ahmed, Reader in Civil Engineering Materials Science in the School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing at Leeds Beckett University, is leading the project. He explained: “This innovative opportunity to process and utilise healthcare waste – particularly NHS waste – to create new products, has multiple benefits: reducing costs to the healthcare sector, reducing the emissions from the disposal of healthcare waste, and reducing the drain on dwindling natural resources such as sand. Sand suitable for construction is a finite resource and there is pressure to create more sustainable supply chains to preserve this valuable commodity for future generations.

“The NHS produces an estimated 156,000 tonnes of clinical waste per year with disposal costs of around £700million per year – largely through waste management contracts that end in incineration or landfill, both of which are harmful to the environment.”

The 30-month project is a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), part-funded by the Government through Innovate UK. The KTP aims to create long-term innovation and New Product Development (NPD) capabilities and pathways for NuGreen – a sister company of Q Medical – to develop, test, commercialise and launch products in new sectors.

The project will refine and commercialise earlier proof of concept studies between Leeds Beckett and NuGreen in the use of floc as an aggregate – most notably sand – replacement in cementitious materials, for example concrete and asphalt.

The market for aggregate replacements is very large. The worldwide construction industry consumes 25-30 billion tonnes of sand per year and the cost of aggregates is increasing.

Clare Atkinson, Founder of NuGreen said: “The opportunity to divert high volumes of healthcare waste from incineration and transform it into a valuable, low carbon construction material – that replaces the use of a finite resource such as sand – is the future we see. Healthcare waste incineration contributes to poor air quality, increasing the strain on NHS resources by impacting respiratory health – this is a cycle we want to break. The opportunity for healthcare to be at the forefront of a lower carbon future is vital to drive the global shift required for true connectivity, progress, and sustainability.”

Use of healthcare waste is challenging from a regulatory perspective and tightly controlled by the Environment Agency. Construction materials are also highly regulated and rigorous testing and compliance for the floc will be required to meet British standards for commercial use.

By the end of the project, NuGreen will have taken healthcare waste through a product development lifecycle, resulting in a commercially viable product to take to market as an aggregate substitute. The Leeds Beckett team will support NuGreen to develop and commercialise further products using other forms of healthcare waste, such as silicone, during and beyond the completion of the KTP.

A skilled graduate will be recruited, as a full-time member of the NuGreen team and with the full support of the Leeds Beckett academic team, to manage the project as a KTP Associate.

Dr Sepehr Ghaffari, Senior Lecturer in Engineering, and Killian Ngong, Senior Lecturer and Chartered Civil Engineer, will lead the asphalt concrete investigations. Dr Alfred Chinta – an expert in supply chain management with a focus on technology and sustainability – will lead on the strategic support, embedding the innovation and product development systems into the business.

Professor Silke Machold, Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Leeds Beckett University, said: “There is a very high level of innovation attached to this project that addresses the UK’s Net Zero ambitions. It offers the potential for an agile solution to the healthcare sector – particularly the NHS – to manage and reduce their carbon footprint. At Leeds Beckett University, our School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing is an international leader in sustainability research. This includes research on retrofitting and net zero technologies in buildings conducted by our Leeds Sustainability Institute.”