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UK launches six energy innovation hubs

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UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has awarded £53 million in funding to boost knowledge, innovation and create new technologies to decarbonise the energy sector.

  • UKRI has funded six energy innovation hubs, working on energy demand, hydrogen and renewables.
  • The new hubs are expected to accelerate progress towards net zero.
  • Research and innovation will ensure that the most effective solutions are identified, developed and scaled.

An investment of £53 million in six research centres is expected to drive change in the energy system and help to meet the UK’s net zero target by 2050.  According to UKRI, the energy research centres: “will boost knowledge, create innovative green technologies and reduce demand for energy to achieve greener, cleaner domestic, industrial and transport energy systems.”

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has awarded:

  • £15 million for a new Energy Demand Research Centre that will provide solutions for energy demand reduction, understand the impact on consumers, and enable equitable policy decision-making.
  • £17.5 million investment in three Supergen research hubs that will boost innovation in energy distribution, both nationally and internationally, and propel discoveries in renewable energy into impactful new technologies.
  • £20 million in two hubs that deliver options to integrate clean and sustainable hydrogen into the domestic, industrial and transport energy systems.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said:“The government has set a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, requiring rapid decarbonisation of our energy systems. UKRI is leveraging its ability to work across disciplines to support this ambition through a major portfolio of investments that will catalyse innovation and new green energy systems.

“The funding announced today will support researchers and innovators to develop game changing ideas to improve domestic, industrial and transport energy systems.”

Energy Demand Research Centre

Energy demand reduction will improve energy security, reduce household energy bills and address climate change. Reducing energy use could help meet half of the required emissions reductions we need to become a Net Zero society by 2050. However, fundamental changes will be needed in order to to enable a significant reduction in energy demand and increase in the use of low-carbon technologies.

The EDRC will gather evidence on the impact of energy demand reduction, building a solid knowledge base including varied perspectives of how a low-demand future may play out in reality and how demand could become more flexible. They will determine the place-based solutions, skills and policies that are likely to be necessary,  while also considering how energy demand can be embedded in governance.

A new national Energy Demand Research Centre will build an evidence base for understanding consumer behaviour, assessing the impact of socio-technical energy demand reduction measures, and research mechanisms to improve energy efficiency.

The centre, based at the universities of Sussex and Newcastle, will investigate how domestic, industrial and transport energy demand reduction can be delivered on a local and national level across the UK.

The centre has been awarded £15 million from EPSRC and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Hydrogen Hubs

Hydrogen and hydrogen-based, low-carbon liquid fuels, such as ammonia, are considered  essential for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This is due to hydrogen’s role as a versatile energy vector, which is considered suitable for use in many hard-to-decarbonise sectors where other energy options, such as electricity, are not suitable. These two hubs will drive forward the national effort in hydrogen research that is needed to facilitate this critical area of technology to meet industry and government needs.

The UK Government has set out high expectations for the role of hydrogen, with demand predicted to be 250-460 TWh in 2050 (with early adoption in industry and transport) equivalent to 20-35 per cent of UK’s total expected energy consumption. This hub will provide a focus for the UK research community, working in close partnership with businesses, governments, and administrations to tackle research challenges that underpin the hydrogen production, storage and distribution parts of the hydrogen value chain.

Led by the University of Bath, the UK-HyRES Hydrogen Hub, aims to become an international leader in hydrogen research and to deliver practical hydrogen and alternative liquid fuel technologies that are safe, acceptable, and environmentally and economically sustainable.

The HI-ACT Hub, led by Newcastle University, will evaluate routes to effective integration of hydrogen into the wider energy landscape, addressing interactions with electricity, natural gas, heat, and transport. By considering a whole systems perspective, the research shall identify where hydrogen offers most value.

Each hub has been awarded £10 million funding by EPSRC.

Supergen Impact Hubs

Energy networks exist primarily to exploit and facilitate temporal and spatial diversity in energy production and use and to benefit from economies of scale. The supergen hub will carry out interdisciplinary research such that energy networks are not just enablers of the low carbon transition but become a driving force towards a rapid, safe and just transition to net zero. Good progress has been made in de-carbonisation in some areas but this focus is expected to accelerate the development, scale up the deployment and increase the impact delivered.

Three impact hubs will study how the UK can take advantage of the latest research in energy generation from renewable sources.

The Supergen Energy Networks Impact Hub, at the University of Bristol, will investigate modernisation of energy distribution systems between suppliers and users to become a driving force towards a rapid, safe and just transition to net zero.

Based at the University of Plymouth, the Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Impact Hub delivers research to accelerate the impact of current generation and future ORE devices and systems. Researchers focus on innovation and new technologies in wave, tidal, solar and wind power.

The Supergen Bioenergy Impact Hub, based at Aston University, will continue to support the UK’s transition to a low carbon energy future by identifying pathways for delivering bioenergy with wider social, economic and environmental benefits.

The hubs are funded by EPSRC, with the Supergen Bioenergy Impact Hub also receiving support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

SGV Take

Research and innovation will be critical if the UK is to achieve its net zero goals. The new hubs will strengthen these capabilities by providing a centralised source of support and encouraging the sharing of knowledge. UKRI’s announcement should therefore be welcomed by researchers, entrepreneurs, business-owners and anyone invested in the transition to a sustainable future.

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