Centre for Water, Environment, Sustainability & Public Health

Waste, energy & the circular economy

Our research is focused on:

  • triple helix and sustainable development
  • the Circular Economy and the role of networks of innovation
  • reuse of organic wastes in the Circular Biobased Economy
  • recycling of soils, sediments and inorganic solid wastes
  • reuse of brownfields, former landfills and contaminated land for renewable energy
  • characterisation, treatment and recovery of hazardous wastes, especially contaminated soils
  • waste management in developing countries

Triple helix and sustainable development

The research on triple helix has sought to develop knowledge networks for: 

  • the conservation and sustainable use of resources
  • links to the circular economy
  • how partnerships between universities, business, industry and the government can be harnessed as a system for knowledge creation
  • its effective use in wealth creation in developing countries – particularly in the face of the dysfunctionality of the triple helix system in these countries 

The Triple Helix research is an interdisciplinary initiative which draws on in-house expertise in technology, the circular economy and development studies. It is aimed at exploring the dynamics in the evolution of knowledge as the principal driver of sustainable development.

It builds on the conventional technology transfer practice and establishes universities as active players in the development of indigenous knowledge and capacity building initiatives.

Key people: Girma Zawdie, Jack Barrie, Elsa João

The Circular Economy and the role of networks of innovation

This research focuses on the role of networks of innovation in the circular economy, an economy that invites businesses to transform their approach to the use of materials and energy.

Scotland was the first nation to join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy 100 programme (CE100).

Jack Barrie is among only 18 worldwide to have been awarded a place on the prestigious Schmidt MacArthur Fellowship in 2016 related to the Circular Economy. The Fellowship is a12 month international programme on the circular economy open to postgraduate students in design, engineering and business from a network of fourteen Partner Universities. It is jointly funded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – a think tank that is playing a pivotal role in promoting awareness around the circular economy transition – and the Schmidt Family Foundation.

Key people: Jack Barrie, Girma Zawdie, Elsa João

Reuse of organic wastes in the Circular Biobased Economy

From green waste compost to biosolids, water treatment sludge to anaerobic digestate, biomass to biochar, organic wastes have a key role to play in the Circular Economy as a flux of nutrients and renewable energy.

Our work on the effective reuse of organic wastes in agriculture can help reduce landfill, greenhouse gas emissions and address the growing conflicts between global food production and climate change.

Key people: Richard Lord, Charles Knapp, Tara Beattie

Recycling of soils, sediments and inorganic solid wastes

Treating soils dredged sediments and other solid materials can turn a potential waste into a resource, increasing resource efficiency, avoiding mining or quarrying and reducing carbon emissions.

Our interests include recovery of soil, manufacture of technosoils, and reusing wastes in construction materials.

Key people: Richard Lord, Charles Knapp, Christine Switzer, Andrea Hamilton

Reuse of brownfields, former landfills and contaminated land for renewable energy

The decline of former heavy industries has left a legacy of abandoned “brownfield”, vacant and derelict land across the Scottish central belt, Northern England and many other industrialised countries.

We are working to find ways to reuse this potential resource for renewable energy (Energyfields), especially by growing non-food crops used for bioenergy (Landfuel). Reusing this wasted resource makes sense for society and can help avoid the landuse conflict of renewables with global food production, often termed the fuel versus food dilemma.

Key people: Richard Lord, Elsa João, Ross Donaldson, Phil Mellor

Characterisation, treatment and recovery of hazardous wastes, especially contaminated soils

When wastes materials or soils are contaminated to the extent that they are hazardous they require special treatment processes to render them harmless.

We are developing novel in situ and ex situ treatment methods based around the smouldering combustion of soils and their organic components (STAR).

What is left behind lacks biological and hydraulic functioning of soils so requires amelioration to correct this (Frankensoils). Our sophisticated analytical laboratories can also characterise and determine the likely source of organic pollutants using environmental forensics.

Key people: Bob Kalin, Charles Knapp, Christine Switzer, Richard Lord

Waste management in developing countries

Inappropriate waste disposal is not only harmful to the environment, but can also have negative impact on human and animal health.

In developing countries management of waste is often unregulated, resulting in the open dumping of waste materials and contamination of land, water and the atmosphere.

In addition wastes have great potential to serve as a resource, and appropriate management of this material could be a key to economic growth.

Our research in this area focuses not only on local management of waste to improve community living and working conditions, e.g. improvement of waste management within community markets, but also on improving strategy and management of waste at a national level.

Funded via a Petroleum Technology Development Fund PhD Scholarship, Charles Mbama is investigating how both waste management strategy and technology could be utilised to improve the current management of wastes in Nigeria; technology and strategy currently in use in Scotland, e.g. the Zero Waste Plan (2010), is providing an evidence base to inform recommendations on improving waste management in developing countries.

Key people: Tara Beattie, Tracy Morse, Iain Beverland