Imperial College London

£1m grant for research on distributed ledger technology and the circular economy

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Fast moving traffic moves along London streets; the light from the headlamps of the vehicles is blurred, suggesting speed

The grant from IOTA Foundation unites cross-College expertise within the I3-LAB, based in the Dyson School for Design Engineering

The grant will support researchers to develop new applications for distributed ledger technology. The main focus will be on how this new technology can support a shift to a circular economy, for example by incentivising consumers to recycle more or by increasing transparency around the sustainability of materials used in manufacturing. IOTA Foundation is a Berlin-based non-profit foundation which supports research into distributed ledger technologies and promotes their adoption.

A number of researchers will be involved in the I3-LAB, including Robert Shorten, Professor of Cyber-Physical Systems and Deputy Director of the Dyson School, whose research interests include smart mobility and smart cities, the sharing economy and distributed ledgers.

The grant will also support doctoral studentships and postdoctoral fellowships for researchers interested in topics related to circular business models, tokenization and traceability.

A series of targeted research projects and hackathons will bring together researchers, entrepreneurs and local authorities to investigate how DLT can be used to address a range of economic and environmental challenges.

By connecting our research expertise with entrepreneurs and statutory partners, the I3-LAB can lead the UK in piloting real-world applications for this technology Professor Peter Cheung Head of the Dyson School of Design Engineering

Professor Peter Cheung, Head of the Dyson School of Design Engineering said: “We are incredibly grateful to the IOTA Foundation for their support. Innovation in sustainable growth is one of the key research themes for the Dyson School and this grant will being new impetus to research on the technological drivers of the circular economy. By connecting our research expertise with entrepreneurs and statutory partners, the I3-LAB can lead the UK in piloting real-world applications for this technology.”

The concept of the circular economy has emerged as an alternative to current linear economic models which rely on mass production and consumption, a ‘take-make-dispose’ approach that requires unlimited raw materials and cheap energy, and that generates large volumes of consumer waste.

In a circular economy, the focus is decoupling consumption from economic growth, for example by reducing waste and increasing the use of recycled materials, or by developing new business models that shift from selling manufactured products to selling a service or solution.  

Distributed ledger technology provides a platform to support these new ‘servitized’ businesses and could play a major role as an enabler of circular economy.

A ledger is simply a database of transactions. However, unlike conventional databases, where information is held centrally by an administrator, a distributed leger database is held across multiple devices on a peer-to-peer network. The distributed ledger is thus a means for keeping track of complex transactions across a network of agents – but without the need for a central authority to guarantee the trustworthiness of transactions.

Distributed ledger technology has a broad range of potential applications in the circular economy, both in incentivising waste reduction and recycling (for example, by encouraging people to recycle more with a financial incentive in the form of a virtual token) and in enabling servitized businesses models.

Dominik Schiener, Co-Founder and Chair of IOTA Foundation, said: “An unwavering belief in constant innovation and meaningful collaboration are part and parcel of everything that makes the IOTA Foundation what it is. By supporting this I3-LAB initiative, we’re furthering our commitment to ushering in a greener future using the most forward-thinking technology possible. We’re already anticipating the amazing research the I3-LAB will foster and enable. The crucial DLT developments we fund will help usher in the circular economy and, most importantly, make our planet liveable for generations to come.”

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Daniel Mapp

Daniel Mapp
Advancement

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