Royal Commission announces new Design Fellowship

Commission support will enable Robert Johnson to continue to further a series of design investigations into the future of oil and fat waste in the U.K.

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 has announced its first Design Fellowship. The Fellowship has been awarded to Designer Robert Johnson.

This new Fellowship offers £50,000 per year, over two years, to help Designers to tackle some of the biggest challenges. By funding these projects, the Commission is looking to support interdisciplinary work that uses design as a tool to spark change in specific areas of research.

This year’s recipient, Robert Johnson, is the founder of ‘Fatconomy, the uncharted future of fats’ a system design-centred initiative aimed at tackling oil & fat disposal in the UK.

Oil and fat waste is normally directed through one of two streams; for use in biofuels, or straight to landfill. Robert’s work seeks to better understand the impact of the waste fat and oil ecosystem, the ‘Fatconomy’, on labour, ecology, and innovation. He also seeks to challenge the apathy towards fat waste that exists in so many urban settings.

During Robert’s design residency at the Design Museum in 2019, his project, Fatconomy, explored how excess fat waste can be used to create biomaterials, tackling the issues of overconsumption and waste generation in the UK. Moving beyond the Design Museum, Robert continues to take a holistic approach to the oil & fat disposal system in the UK and their links to the biofuel manufacturing process.

Millions of tonnes of fat are disposed of every year in the UK. Robert aims to tackle streams of excessive waste in the current disposal system by identifying barriers at each stage in its journey. While Robert’s project is based around innovation in the biofuel sector and the re-designing of waste disposal processes and tools, he also aims to use speculative film and documentaries as a communication tool to drive conversation and spark change in this field.

The funding support from the Commission will enable Robert to kick-start his creative start-up that fuses design storytelling with innovation research to help solve issues surrounding policy communication within the biowaste and building trades.

"The Oil and fat disposal system in the UK needs a re-design to tackle the barriers of overconsumption and Fatconomy is taking a fresh approach to this challenge. The Commission is always looking to support innovation that brings about positive change, so we are delighted to fund Robert’s fellowship. Robert has already made strong strides in this area, and we’re excited to see what comes next for his work."

John Lavery
Secretary for the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

“Fatconomy aims to take an unfiltered look at our connection with the materiality of fat in our society. With Biofuel edging closer to uncertainty with the impending reality of an energy transition to hydrogen and electric, a transition that will soon affect the biofuel producers who are integral to our fat and oil waste cycle – how do we future proof these key trades? I will be creating design-based scenarios that can help bring speculative design to the forefront of our fat waste cycles, ideating on future labours around our fat and oil waste streams within the U.K.“

Rob Johnson
1851 Commission Design Fellow