Case study

NCC finds sustainable, cost-effective composites alternative for innovative SME

23 February 2021

The NCC has found a more sustainable, cost-effective alternative material for the subterranean pipes used by Magway, the innovative SME who develop ground-breaking sustainable transport solutions.

Magway were looking to apply their ground-breaking expertise in linear motors and control systems to create a transport network of underground pipes, aiming to address the explosive growth in online shopping.

The team of composites experts at the world-leading research centre showed that using renewable, biobased flax fibres offered a viable, more sustainable alternative to traditional reinforcement materials, while also reducing the overall cost of the pipeline in comparison to HDPE.  The materials identified could represent a potential 50% reduction in material costs, and a 70% reduction in manufacturing costs.

Magway had initially engaged with the NCC through an Innovation Workshop, which allows SMEs to explore the feasibility of their innovative ideas and products, facilitated by the centre’s dedicated SME team. Wanting to take their concept to the next level, they returned to the NCC to conduct the project through the SME Boost programme. 

NCC engineers conducted research into the design and cost modelling of each aspect of the product, and an assessment of a range of environmental factors combined with one of various manufacturing processes allowed the creation of product, material, and manufacturing process down selection. A detailed life-cycle analysis of the materials currently used, and those being considered as alternatives, was also conducted to ensure that the gains from removing goods traffic from the roads was not undermined by unforeseen factors in the development of this new method of transport.

“Sustainability is at the heart of Magway, so it was important for us to understand the environmental inputs of the system itself as well as the beneficial outputs,” said Huw Thomas, Development Director at Magway.  “Working with the NCC enabled us to assess the embedded carbon in the HDPE pipes being proposed and offered a comprehensive review of the alternatives. Their report not only showed us how we could save money and reduce our systems carbon footprint, it also offered an opportunity for UK manufacturers to take a global lead in creating more sustainable pipe materials. We are currently looking at how we can partner to best take the recommendations forward.”

The SME Boost programme offers match funding up to £25k to small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK to help them develop composites products.

Leah Rider, Head of SME at the NCC, said: “Composite materials can offer a huge number of benefits to a range of industries and companies, particularly as we understand better how to use them as sustainable alternatives. We want to make sure that the UK’s smaller companies also have access to these developments, and the SME Boost programme ensures it is an affordable option for them.”


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