A new study to Assess UK Strategic Advantage in Advanced Materials, prepared by Perspective Economics, has assessed the current strength of the UK advanced materials ecosystem. It has set out an evidence base on the strategic advantage of the UK advanced materials area, identifying UK capabilities in advanced materials and identifying the current and forecast levels of UK supply and demand of these materials, incorporating the differing timeframes of availability/technology maturity.
The study, which as commissioned by the former Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) asserts that a comprehensive UK advanced materials strategy is required so that all aspects of advanced materials, from investment in research and innovation, economic development and scale-up, to skills, legislation and standards, are working together to effectively leverage the UK’s strengths in advanced materials.
The Henry Royce Institute welcomes this important study which provides a robust, data-informed assessment of the UK’s Strategic Advantage in Advanced Materials. The report identifies the key innovation strengths of advanced materials, as well as providing an analysis of the risks we face if we don’t effectively leverage the UK’s strengths in materials. It highlights that increased innovation activity is vital because it can translate strength in early-stage research into productivity gains and economic growth.
The study calls for a UK advanced materials strategy that targets investment in existing UK strengths so they are bolstered to maximise the UK’s competitive advantages – noting there can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to coordinating advanced materials activity.
Royce is now facilitating a cross-sectoral National Materials Innovation Strategy, under the direction of a new Materials Innovation Leadership Group on behalf of the UK Materials Community. This contextual summary and evidence gathering provides both rich information and an insightful backdrop to focus the need for, and accelerate the delivery of this Strategy.
Other key points
- Advanced materials will be critical for achieving the UK’s Net Zero strategy and for delivering new technologies that support future automotive, aerospace, health and life sciences, infrastructure, national defence and space industries in the UK.
- The UK’s industrial heritage and the consequent geographic orientation of academic research means that advanced materials present a credible levelling up opportunity.
- There is, therefore, capacity within industry across the UK to increase the level of advanced materials innovation activity. This innovation activity is vital because it can translate strength in early-stage research into productivity gains and economic growth.
- There is no single plan that articulates how advanced materials activity and investment will be shepherded so that the right support is effectively directed to maximise the economic and environmental opportunities that they enable.
- A comprehensive UK advanced materials strategy is required so that all aspects of advanced materials, from economic development and investment, to skills, legislation and standards, are working together to most effectively leverage the UK’s unique strengths in advanced materials.
- Using AI techniques the study has identified approximately 2,300 companies involved in advanced materials activity in the UK. Of the 2,300 companies identified, approximately 2,100 were SMEs (92%).
- Further, and perhaps more importantly, the data also highlights a huge disparity between funding for earlier-stage research and funding for innovation in advanced materials.
- Scale-up, private investment and patient capital – while the UK has an internationally relevant advanced materials start-up eco-system, qualitative and quantitative data suggest that the UK continues to struggle to effectively scale its innovative advanced materials companies.
- The fact that advanced materials underpin so many of the technologies that the UK will rely on to support existing and new markets (aerospace and defence, renewable energy, automotive, electrical mobility, the hydrogen economy) makes targeting investment and support for advanced materials more difficult.
- There is a significant risk that this complexity leads to underinvestment in advanced materials.
- Qualitative data from strategic stakeholder interviews consistently highlighted a pressing need for more effective sector coordination, a more directive approach from the centre of government, and a need to encourage competition for research funding in a different way.
Consultation with advanced materials experts indicated that this headline value chain analysis infers a UK “trajectory towards becoming no more than integrators of others’ technology and that, taken in context of the funding for materials science and loss of key national assets in other parts of the text, we have a real opportunity to reverse this trajectory and build strength in future advanced materials businesses”.