Professor Charlotte Williams’ research focuses on new sustainable technologies for polymer production. She develops catalysts that transform renewable resources and wastes into polymers; these catalysts enable natural bio-chemicals and carbon dioxide to replace petrochemicals in scalable materials production.
In 2020 Professor Williams began working with Unilever to test new polymers in their product range sourced from renewable resources like carbon dioxide and plants. The collaboration involves producing, testing and analysing the performance benefits of sustainable and degradable polymers in formulations and products. This research is part of Unilever’s Clean Future strategy to decarbonise their product formulations and use renewable and recycled ingredients.
The work has been recognised by a Unilever Clean Future Supplier Brilliance Award 2021, the first time the award has been given to an academic team. It was awarded jointly to Profs Williams (Oxford), Rosseinsky and Cooper (both Liverpool) in recognition for their work in unlocking new areas of materials science, such as breakthrough catalysts to convert CO2 into chemicals.
In April 2021 Unilever and the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford were awarded EPSRC Prosperity Partnership funding for a 5-year collaborative programme to reduce the carbon footprint of everyday consumer products such as laundry detergent. The aims of the programme are to invent and design sustainable materials from waste by using methods such as carbon capture, helping to decarbonise the global chemical supply chain and contribute to the UK’s net zero ambitions.
Richard Slater, Chief R&D Officer at Unilever says "To achieve the UK’s net zero goal by 2050 we need a transformation of the global chemical supply chain. This partnership is an important milestone towards this, driving forward important research on new renewable and biodegradable materials for everyday products, such as laundry detergents. We’re delighted to bring together our world-leading scientists alongside those from the University of Liverpool, the University of Oxford, and our other partners, to tackle this issue."
Professor Williams adds, "It’s an exciting project bringing together a team of scientists, engineers and environmental policy experts to fundamentally change the chemicals and polymers palette used by Unilever in their products. We want to ensure that in future the environmental impacts throughout the life cycles are minimized and that carbon is efficiently recycled and pollution in oceans, rivers and soils prevented. Unilever have shown real leadership in sustainability and I’m very much looking forward to working with them."