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BP picks University of Manchester for £64m centre

The oil and gas firm BP has launched a £64 million international advanced-materials research centre to be headquartered at the University of Manchester.

The BP International Centre for Advanced Materials, announced on 7 August, will focus on seven areas of industry-relevant research: structural materials, smart coatings, functional materials, catalysis, membranes, energy storage and energy harvesting. The funding will support the centre for 10 years.

The company says the centre will be modelled on a “hub and spoke” structure, with the hub located at the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

A BP statement says it chose the university—which is also home to the UK’s £50m National Graphene Institute—because of its “core strengths in materials, engineering, characterisation, collaborative working, and a track record of delivering breakthrough research and engineering applications that can be deployed in the real world”.

The institution also houses the BP’s Projects and Engineering College and is a member of BP’s Inherently Reliable Facilities Research Programme.

The University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US will be partner organisations—spokes—in the project.

The centre is expected to support 25 academic posts, 100 post-grad researchers and 80 postdoctoral fellows. A University of Manchester spokesman says that while the positions will be spread across the partner institutions, most will be in Manchester. He adds that BP is likely to advertise for the posts.

According to both the university and company, intellectual property arrangements for the centre are yet to be finalised with a contract due to be signed on 1 September.

“[The arrangements] will ensure both the academic freedom of the researchers whilst delivering benefits to both the BP and the university,” a BP spokeswoman told Research Fortnight Today.

BP’s announcement says that the universities “will have academic freedom to publish fundamental science resulting from the BP-ICAM’s work, while commercial agreements will cover specific technological applications of the work.

“Advanced materials and coatings will be vital in finding, producing and processing energy safely and efficiently in the years ahead, as energy producers work at unprecedented depths, pressures and temperatures, and as refineries, manufacturing plants and pipeline operators seek ever better ways to combat corrosion and deploy new materials to improve their operations,” Bob Dudley, BP group chief executive, said in a statement.

Speaking in London on 7 August, the UK chancellor, George Osborne, said that the location of three of the centre’s four institutions in the UK “clearly demonstrates the UK’s strength in science and innovation.

“The UK’s research base is second only to the USA for number of citations, and it is the most productive country for research in the G8 in citations and publications per pound.

“Our research institutes include world-leading facilities that combine flexibility to pursue innovative research with a unique environment for developing outstanding students and early career researchers,” he added.

In a statement, science and universities minister David Willetts said it was “excellent that BP is making such a significant and long-term investment in British science, working closely with leading institutions like the University of Manchester. This new centre will create highly skilled jobs and help cement the UK’s leading position in advanced materials research and its application.”