Circular Economy Innovation Network

The Circular Economy Innovation Network aims to create stronger, more collaborative, and resilient industries working together to achieve net zero through circular innovation.

The Circular Economy Innovation Network aims to create stronger, more collaborative, and resilient industries working together to achieve net zero through circular innovation.

By building new sector communities, focussed on circular design, circular business models, and circular recovery we are empowering industry members to come together for the first time to co-create a shared pathway for impact in achieving net zero through circular innovation.

We are launching three new challenge communities (wool, aluminium, and chemicals), that will collaborate to co-create a Circular Innovation Action Plan for their sector. This action plan will identify the key sectoral barriers to net zero and how the circular economy can be used as a framework to overcome these barriers.

As part of this process, communities will agree on two challenges they want to tackle together. Using our Innovation Exchange platform, we will seek to find potential solutions and broker new relationships between established industry and innovators.

We are building the Circular Economy Innovation Network to bring together stakeholders across the wool, aluminium, and chemicals value chain to explore how innovation can enhance the role of wool, aluminium, and chemicals in the UK. Here we begin to explore the challenges facing the three industries in the UK and consider where innovation could have a role to play in supporting producers, processors and end users.

Each community will run from April 2022 – March 2023.


We held our first launch event online on 26th April 2022, 11:00 – 12:30, featuring three breakout rooms on the 3 sectors, with Q&A.

Watch the recording to find out how you can get involved in exploring:

  • How we could use wool, aluminium and chemicals in novel ways to benefit the sector
  • Ways we could use resources more efficiently across the value chain

This event is part of our Circular Innovation Network, which looks at alternatives to using high carbon materials to support UK industries in reaching net zero.


Enabling the wool sector to be more innovative, and more profitable, could deliver social and economic benefits to traditional rural farming communities. Through increasing resource-use efficiency and replacing other environmentally damaging materials by creating a revenue from a waste stream, wool could also play a significant role in supporting net zero goals.

Wool is a readily available raw material but its potential value is not being delivered

Wool is currently a low cost, raw material, and its value has been further impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a by-product of the livestock industry, which is a significant employer in the UK and contributes £291.4m to the economy. Most sheep breeds have to be sheared to ensure animal welfare standards are met, however, the value of wool is very low. In 2020, UK farmers were receiving between 15-30p per fleece, yet paying more than £1 to have each sheep sheared.

As a valuable industry which is here to stay due to consumer demand for lamb, and the role that sheep play in maintaining rural landscapes, it is necessary to look for opportunities to maximise the profit wool can deliver.

Wool has a unique set of properties which could enable it to contribute to meeting net zero targets

Wool has a unique set of ‘circular’ features, it is a natural, renewable and biodegradable fibre, suitable for reuse and recycling. Unlike synthetic fibres, wool is not made from oil and does not contribute to marine microplastics. The UK is uniquely placed in the woollen industry as it has more sheep breeds than any country in the world – with over sixty different breeds cared for by more than forty thousand farmers in both high and lowlands. This diversity of breeds and fleece types means British wool can be used in a broad range of applications.

Wool has the potential to replace other more carbon intensive materials whilst simultaneously broadening the current customer base bringing increased profit to the sector.

Novel uses for wool include its use in packaging (WoolCool), insulation/building materials (Therma fleece, Woolly Shepherd, Havelock wool), compost (Dalefoot Compost). Other innovative uses could look to wool to solve challenges such as clearing up oil spills, flood defences and reinforcing land.

Exploring new uses for wool and innovations to increase the efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of the sector, could impact livelihoods and net zero targets in the UK.

Exploring innovation in the supply chain

When looking across the wool value chain there are also several hot spots at which innovation in processes could result in more efficient resource use and cost savings. These include during production at farm level and during processing and washing (scouring).

Watch the recording to learn how you can get involved in exploring how innovation can enhance the role of wool in the UK.

If you’d like to be kept updated, click here to join our mailing list and community.


Aluminium’s properties hardly change during use. It can therefore be recyclable multiple times. As a result of the high recyclability and long lifespan of aluminium in many applications, around three-quarters of all aluminium ever produced is still in use, some having been recycled many times. The world’s increasing stock of aluminium-in-use constitutes a valuable resource in a circular economy.

The production of aluminium from secondary sources uses much less energy, accounting for about 5% of the energy needed to produce primary aluminium (95% savings in energy compared to primary production from bauxite). There is a similar level of savings in greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the encouraging recycling rates for aluminium in the UK, there is still room for improvement, such as the need to:

  • Minimise losses of aluminium throughout the use cycle. Despite the higher end-of-life collection rate, 31% of end-of-life aluminium from cans still goes to waste. Securing higher collection rates of aluminium from consumer products is needed to counter these losses.
  • Adopt smart design to make traceability, disassembly and recycling easier and more cost efficient.
  • Improve sorting, preferably by specific product and by alloy family to ensure reuse and recycling. The optimisation of scrap segregation to avoid as much as possible the mixing of different aluminium alloys is needed.
  • Invest in dismantling, sorting, pre- and remelting treatment technologies to further close the loop.

Watch the recording to learn how you can get involved in exploring how innovation can enhance the role of aluminium in the UK.

If you’d like to be kept updated, click here to join our mailing list and community.


The UK chemical industries have a pivotal role in achieving net zero and a circular economy.

As we look towards building the global resilience and competitiveness, we must find ways of establishing UK manufacturing supply chains that producing products without having a negative impact on our environment. Through Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) we can produce higher-value, low carbon products and reduce our reliance on virgin carbon feedstocks.

A recently published KTN Catalysis Innovation and Net Zero study highlights that CCU, coupled with renewable energy, low carbon hydrogen and Power-2-X technologies, presents a significant opportunity to manufacture chemicals in the UK with a low carbon footprint. The drive to move towards more sustainable chemicals – for example, Unilever’s commitment to replacing fossil-derived carbon with renewable or recycled carbon by 2030 – further emphasises a further need for CCU.

Innovations in CCU need to be developed with a systems approach considering real world process conditions, from individual unit operation design through to complete processes. It will require new collaborations to be formed along the value chain to develop and establish the technical and commercially viable routes from feedstock (quality and quantity) through to final product. From prior research by Innovate UK KTN, we know that the UK needs flexible pilot and demonstration scale facilities to accelerate innovation in areas such as CCU. We also know that other challenges are:

  • Influencing policy, funding, and the innovation landscape to help create the market opportunity and incentivise the development and use of CCU for chemicals
  • Communicating the status of current and innovative CCU technologies for chemicals coupled with the quantity and quality of CO and CO2
  • Being able to demonstrate the technical and commercial viability of CCU for existing and new chemical pathways.

Although the UK is currently undertaking research and innovation in CCU for chemicals there is significantly more that needs to be done to overcome the above challenges. This will require connecting industry stakeholders from across the value chain to identifying the cross-sector opportunities and challenges. This is a role KTN can provide and will be important in informing government policy and industrial strategy in this space. Other activities where we think the CE | IN can create impact in this area would be:

  • Convening key stakeholders, industry hubs, and organisations along the supply chains (from source to final product)
  • Undertaking a desktop exercise and interviews with key stakeholders to:
    • understand and analyse the potential quality and quantity of biogenic and non-biogenic CO and CO2 feedstock with the UK.
    • identify current and upcoming technologies for the capture and utilisation of CO and CO2 gases
    • access the real potential of utilising CO and CO2 in the near and long term
  • Establishing a portfolio of exemplars to help build evidence towards the developing the technological and economical business case

Watch the recording to learn how you can get involved in exploring how innovation can enhance the role of chemicals in the UK.

If you’d like to be kept updated, click here to join our mailing list and community.

Find out more about Circular Economy here.

Current Circular Economy Innovation Network funding opportunities

Faraday Battery Challenge Round 5 Innovation: Feasibility Studies

Opens: 23/05/2022 Closes: 17/08/2022

UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £25 million across two strands, for innovation in propulsion battery technologies for electric vehicles. This strand is for feasibility studies of less than 12 months with project costs between £100,000 and £750,000.

More Information

Innovate UK Smart Grants: July 2022

Opens: 28/07/2022 Closes: 26/10/2022

UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £25 million for game-changing and commercially viable R&D innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy. This funding is from Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation.

More Information

Scottish EDGE round 20

Opens: 20/07/2022 Closes: 23/08/2022

Having already invested £20 million into over 500 businesses with entrepreneurial potential, the Scottish EDGE Awards round 20 opens in July 2022. Awards can be up to £100,000 per company.

More Information

Related Events and Recordings


Circular Economy Innovation Network Launch Event

11.00 - 12.30 | Online

Watch Now

Circular Economy Innovation Network – Aluminium Group Kick Off Meeting

10.00 - 12.00 | Online

Watch Now

CE|IN - Transforming industrial waste gases (CO & CO2) into value added chemicals: Community Workshops

09.30 - 12.30 | Online

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