Spin-out places city’s university in research elite

A spin-out company that could protect frontline troops has helped a Yorkshire university to earn a place among the UK’s top research centres, it was revealed today.

XeraCarb, which started life in a lab at Sheffield Hallam University, has created a new material that could be used to make lightweight body armour.

The company, which was formed by Sheffield Hallam material scientist Dr Hywel Jones and Barnsley-based ceramics expert Dr Anthony Pick, is the latest spin-out to be established through collaboration between Yorkshire’s academics and the business community.

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XeraCarb’s work has been submitted to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is a system for assessing the quality of research in the UK’s higher education establishments.

XeraCarb was one of several submissions from Sheffield Hallam into the REF’s electrical and electronic engineering, metallurgy and materials’ unit of assessment.

Of all the research submitted by the university, 65 per cent was rated as either world-leading - achieving a four star rating - or internationally excellent (three-star) by the REF, which is coordinated and managed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Sheffield Hallam has developed a dedicated team to support spin-out companies which will attract jobs and investment to South Yorkshire.

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Dr Jones, who is from the university’s materials and engineering research institute (MERI), said: “To see a process that we began in the labs at Sheffield Hallam become a business in its own right is truly gratifying, and vindicates the hard work and good science that has taken place.”

XeraCarb has acquired premises in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, and is moving towards full commercialisation of its kiln furniture.

The company’s ceramic composite materials can be used for a wide range of applications, including minerals handling equipment, incinerators, power generation facilities and body armour.

Initially, the company will focus on the kiln furniture market and it plans to create specialist products for the ceramics manufacturing industry.

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XeraCarb has also started a Ministry of Defence-backed programme of advanced testing of its ceramic armour which could be used to protect troops, security personnel and equipment against ballistic threats.

The Ministry of Defence has supported the development of the technology through its Centre for Defence Enterprise and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

The innovation was also awarded the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers Venture Prize of £25,000.

XeraCarb, which was created by Sheffield Hallam to commercialise high performance and low cost ceramic materials, obtained the financial backing to go into production from Finance Yorkshire, which was set up to support a broad range of small and medium-sized businesses in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.

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XeraCarb used the six-figure investment to set up premises and buy equipment to produce its ceramic material on a commercial scale. The company, which employs around five people, has also received funding from two independent investors.

Earlier this week, Finance Yorkshire revealed that it had fully invested its £90m fund, which was backed by grants from the Government and European Regional Development Fund, and finance from the European Investment Bank.

Sheffield Hallam’s Research and Innovation Office, which creates new businesses by linking academics with industry, has been involved in securing investment at all stages of XeraCarb’s development programme.