A landmark £20 million chemistry lab destroyed by fire was set to open next year hosting world-leading research.

The University of Nottingham's new sustainable chemistry building, still under construction at the city Jubilee Campus, was "completely destroyed" in a blaze first reported at 8.30pm, yesterday.

Paul Greatrix, university registrar, said the innovative project was to be "the world's first carbon neutral lab", and would have been home to work aimed at "fundamentally changing how we do chemistry in a more sustainable way".

The lab had received a £12 million grant from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and was set to open some time next year.

Mr Greatrix described the building's destruction as a "set-back" but vowed "we will recover, we will re-build and hopefully in short order we'll be on track".

The shell of the building had been finished, but the project had not yet reached the internal fitting-out phase, according to the university.

More than 60 firefighters tackled a huge fire at the Triumph Road site overnight, bringing the flames under control by 1am.

An open day with up to 18,000 prospective students and their families expected to visit the university today is going ahead.

Mr Greatrix said the threat of the flames spreading to neighbouring university buildings - some just 20m (65ft) away - had been a very real possibility, but firefighters had worked diligently to stop it happening.

"Fortunately the wind was blowing the other way, but there was a lot of heat and there were bits of debris in the air landing all over the road," he said.

"It was scary to say the least and the fire service did amazingly well to contain it."

He added: "Fortunately, and most importantly, nobody was hurt or injured."

Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service described the blaze as "significant" and at its height, the glow of the flames was visible from several miles away across the city.

The labs, described as state-of-the-art by the university, were designed for use by teams of top research academics.

"The work was about the more fundamental aspects of chemistry, which feed into everything from pharmaceuticals to aeronautics," said Mr Greatrix.

"At the moment, chemistry creates a lot of by-products that harm the environment, and the work here would have been looking the basic processes of chemistry and doing it in a clean and green way."

However, Mr Greatrix added that thoughts would now turn to getting the project back off the ground.

"At the moment, that's what we expect to happen," he said.

"There's the investigation by fire service and police, to find the cause, and there's the insurance matters to deal with but it will not deter us and if we cannot do it one way, then we'll do it another.

"Things like this do not put us off - universities are very resilient places."

The university has 33,000 students in the UK, and a further 10,000 at its overseas sites in Malaysia and China.

The fire service's group manager Joanne Wooler-Ward paid credit to the crews at the scene "who pulled out all the stops to prevent this fire spreading".

"The firefighters have worked hard to contain that fire and stop it from spreading to any other buildings.

"Members of the public might have been quite alarmed when they heard a loud bang that some thought was an explosion, but that's something which happens to buildings when they're exposed to extreme heat and pressure."

Crews are still damping down on the site, with fire investigators and police set to start piecing together what caused the fire later.