The issue of sustainability is high on most consumer priorities, with Gen Z adopting more sustainable behaviours than any other groups. A whopping 45% have stopped purchasing certain brands because of ethical or sustainability concerns and they are not afraid to call out brands on social media and boycott them if they are not engaged in good sustainability practices. 1
According to Garnier2, 73% of UK consumers want to be more sustainable in 2021. Out of the top 5 concerns cited, we see waste reduction, packaging and carbon reductions rated highly, with consumers looking to brands to take the lead in driving sustainability and to provide transparency on product sourcing and manufacturing.
The pandemic has led to an increase in online shopping, which has required manufacturers to provide more transport-friendly products/packaging; we have also seen a move by supermarkets, household cleaning products and beauty brands to trial refillable packaging.
Both government and industry groups are adding to the pressures on manufacturers both to reduce emissions and to deal with the increase in waste (the scrapping of China’s waste imports in January 2021 will have a severe impact on landfill).
On a positive note, companies that have embraced sustainability have clearly reaped the benefits. A study by NYU's Stern Center for Sustainable Business3, showed that in more than 90% of the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) categories, products marketed as sustainable grew faster than conventional counterparts, and we are seeing big players such as Unilever with sustainable brands that account for 70% of their turnover growth.
So if sustainability is the answer to happy customers and increased brand growth, why haven’t more companies adapted to these changes? It’s simple, right? Wrong!
Take the example of a cleaning detergent. To reduce its packaging (e.g. by providing refills), firstly a manufacturer needs to look at the material it uses – will this impact on the effectiveness of the product or the way in which it is stored or transported? If the move is to online shopping, will the packaging be robust enough, will the formulation need to be changed to make it less likely to leak in transit? How will this impact the manufacturing processes to make it widely available? Could changes in the formulation create a cheaper and more sustainable product? These are all considerations that need some thought.
The most effective way to answer these questions is to truly understand a product at the atomic to microscale and to be able to predict what will happen when changes are made to the formulation or manufacturing process. Understanding products and processes at this level requires specialist analytical tools and this is where Diamond can help.
At Diamond we can replicate some of these environmental conditions and track changes to a product as they happen, at a molecular level. With sustainability concerns a key driver for change, a number of different partners have used Diamond to further their research efforts in this field.
Case study: cellulose as a rheological modifier
Only a very small proportion of the surfactant used in cleaning products is actually needed to provide the cleaning function. The majority of the surfactant used in formulations is added as a rheological modifier (thickener). Many surfactants are derived from petrochemicals so finding alternative and sustainable sources of ingredients with similar physicochemical properties is an important formulation challenge for consumer products manufacturers. Cellulose is in many ways a perfect formulation ingredient. As a “waste” product of other processes, it is abundant and non-food competitive. It is not derived from petrochemicals and is renewable, sustainable and low cost. However, while it represented huge potential as a formulation thickener, its gelation behaviour was not well understood and therefore could not be accurately controlled.
A team from the University of Bath in collaboration with project partners including Unilever, Croda Speciality Chemicals, Rockwood Additives, University of Liverpool and the National Non-Food Crop Centre were developing novel cellulose-based formulation materials. They used small angle X-ray scattering at Diamond to investigate gel microstructure using a biodegradable and easily dispersible form of cellulose. The gels were investigated under a range of formulation conditions including varying salt concentration, variable salt types, surfactant types and pH levels and in the presence of other formulation ingredients such as low molecular weight alcohols. The cellulose-based materials have the potential to be low cost and sustainable formulation ingredients.
Case study: lignin as a phase change material for rechargeable heating systems
With 27% of global energy consumption occurring in the residential sector, harvesting and storing thermal energy is increasingly important. A promising technology is based on phase-change materials (PCMs) that absorb or release large amounts of heat when they change state, e.g. from solid to liquid. PCMs incorporated into building materials could remove excess heat during the day and release it at night, with minimal carbon emissions. One approach in stabilising PCMs for use is nanoscale confinement in core-shell structures.
A team of researchers from Aalto University in Finland has been exploring simple, low-cost, and scalable colloidal synthesis methods to produce hybrid nanomaterials from renewable resources. They developed a one-pot fabrication methodology for the preparation of fatty acid core-shell particles stabilised by softwood kraft lignin. Lignin, a sustainable by-product of the paper industry, is a highly abundant complex biopolymer particularly found in wood and bark. Understanding the microstructures formed through the novel synthesis method was critical to the success of the project and so the team used the SAXS service at Diamond to obtain high quality microstructural data with a fast turnaround time.
The SAXS analysis helped to elucidate the formation mechanism and packing patterns of a variety of lignin morphologies indicating stability for cycling over an extended period. The hybrid nanocapsules produced by the researchers demonstrate excellent performance as phase change materials for potential thermal energy storage applications.
Diamond provides specialist analytical techniques for the atomic to microscale characterisation of materials ranging from biopharmaceuticals and food to hair care products, performance coatings and engine oil additives. The insight can be obtained at all stages of the product life cycle from initial product development through to monitoring formulation behaviour in end use applications.
The experimental techniques available at Diamond are a step above the standard; one might consider them the “Formula 1” of analysis techniques. They are typically used by scientists who have exhausted the capabilities of lab-based techniques and are searching for characterisation tools that are higher resolution, faster, more chemically specific and more sensitive than achievable in the lab.
Broadly speaking, the materials characterisation facilities at Diamond fall into three main technique classes; diffraction for structural analysis of materials from the atomic to macro scale; spectroscopy for chemical analysis of local atomic structure in materials and imaging, with a wide variety of imaging techniques including high resolution and high-speed tomography and phase contrast imaging available. A key benefit of synchrotron facilities like Diamond is the ability to perform in situ and operando experiments, closely mimicking the conditions experienced by the sample during processing and monitoring changes in real time (for example heating or mixing).
There are two main routes to working with Diamond, through our proprietary and peer-reviewed access modes. Up to 10% of the available experimental time at Diamond is set aside for proprietary access, the most popular choice for our industrial clients.
The Industrial Liaison team acts as the main point of contact for our industrial partners and can offer a range of services including a mail-in data collection and full experimental design, data collection and analysis service.
Some of our partners prefer to perform their own experiments and simply obtain access to the instruments with some technical support, some prefer to send us their samples for a full analysis service and others would like to participate in the experiments to varying degrees.
Our flexible approach means that we can prepare a tailored package for you depending on the needs of each of your projects and we charge only for the time and services you actually need. We are able to offer support with as much or as little of the project as you need.
Get in touch to discuss your requirements using the details below.
Supporting all of these state-of-the-art facilities is the Industrial Liaison Office, comprising a team of highly experienced scientists dedicated to supporting our industrial clients in accessing Diamond. We offer services ranging from full service; a bespoke experimental design, data collection, data analysis and reporting service, right through to providing facilities for you to conduct your own experiments.
We’re always happy to discuss any enquiries or talk about ways in which access to Diamond’s facilities may be beneficial to your business so please complete an enquiry form, or give us a call on 01235 778797. You can keep in touch with the latest developments by following us on Twitter @DiamondILO or LinkedIn.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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