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Government beefs up funding for lightweight materials

It might not be the most obvious home for low-carbon innovation, but British motor racing teams are at the heart of a new industrial programme launched today by the government and designed to slash the UK's carbon emissions through the development of lightweight composite materials.

Speaking today at the headquarters of the Williams Formula One team in Oxfordshire, business secretary Lord Mandelson announced plans for a National Composites Centre as part of a £22m investment programme.

"Any modern economy is built on the ability to exploit the opportunities on offer by new and existing high-value markets - such as composites," he said. " Today's new strategy will help us to exploit the potential of composite materials which could help us lower carbon emissions, make cost savings by making things which last longer and boost our position globally, making the UK the place to produce and develop composites."

Under the new programme, £16m will be invested in a new National Composites Centre in the Bristol area, with £12m provided by central government and £4m coming from the South West Regional Development Agency.

Meanwhile, a further £5m will be awarded to the winner of a new Grand Challenge competition, launched today by the Technology Strategy Board and designed to identify new composite manufacturing techniques. In addition, £1m in upfront funding has been made available to help firms develop bids for the competition.

Composites combine two or more substances to produce a material that has properties that are better than its constituent parts.

Composite materials such as carbon fibre are widely used to reduce the weight of machines while retaining the same or better levels of performance, and as such they tend to be regarded as a low-carbon technology with the potential to deliver deep cuts in emissions.

For example, composites have played a key role in improving the fuel efficiency of cars and aeroplanes in recent years and are also increasingly used in wind turbines to improve blade performance.

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