Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 30

Memorandum submitted by the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils

TO EVALUATE LEVEL OF EXPENDITURE ON RD&D IN NON-CARBON ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES, BY UK GOVERNMENT, THE RESEARCH COUNCILS, THE CARBON TRUST AND INDUSTRY, AND WHERE IT IS BEING DIRECTED

  1.  The Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) is an independent, non-departmental public body, which owns and operates the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire and the Chilbolton Facility in Hampshire. CCLRC supports the UK research community by providing access to advanced facilities and an extensive scientific and technical expertise. Of particular relevance to energy RD&D are:

    —  ISIS, the world's most powerful pulsed neutron and muon source—for research into the atomic structure of materials.

    —  The Synchrotron Radiation Source, the UK's brightest source of ultraviolet light and X-rays—for research in materials and life sciences;

    —  The Central Laser Facility, high-power state-of-the-art laser facilities—for research in fundamental and applied science and engineering; and

    —  Energy Research Unit (research into alternative energy production).

  2.  As well as providing research facilities for use by academic researchers funded by the other Research Councils, the CCLRC also carries out an extensive in-house energy research programme. CCLRC staff have submitted proposals for energy research funding to a range of bodies including the Research Councils, DTI, DEFRA, and the European Commission.

  3.  The CCLRC itself is not a grant-awarding body, so is not in a position to actively steer the direction of Energy Research, Development & Demonstration (RD&D), though several of its staff serve on Research Council assessment panels, as well as DTI and European advisory committees.

  4.  The Council's staff carry out research and development in many areas of relevance—for example, climate change and its potential impact, materials, and energy technology (both conventional and novel).

  5.  The CCLRC has considerable expertise and experience in relevant technologies, built up over more than 20 years. Particular areas of expertise include:

    —  New and renewable energy sources

  6.  The CCLRC's Energy Research Unit (ERU) specialises in performing and enabling innovative research on new and renewable energy technologies. The Unit, which was established over 20 years ago, has an international reputation in wind energy research covering a broad range of topics including: aerodynamics, power output and demand forecasting, flywheel and battery energy storage, integration into electricity supply system, wind flow modelling and computer simulation and the sustainable use of energy.

HYDROGEN ENERGY AND ITS STORAGE

  7.  Recent studies carried out by staff of the CCLRC's Energy Research Unit have defined the technical and social challenges that need to be addressed if the UK is to move towards a hydrogen economy.

THE STUDY OF NOVEL MATERIALS

  8.  Over the past decade, significant materials R&D has been performed at CCLRC two major central facilities, the spallation neutron source, ISIS, at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the X-ray synchrotron source, SRS, at the Daresbury Laboratory. Particular examples include researchers from the Royal Institution who have pioneered a collaboration at ISIS into the in-situ study of catalysts that has involved a number of UK universities while at SRS, researchers from the University of Southampton and Johnson Matthey have used X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) to assess the use of platinum alloys as potential fuel cells.

  9.  Materials for energy and the environment are one of the principal emerging research areas at CCLRC central facilities. One of the key issues in the creation of a non-carbon fuel economy is our ability to develop new materials by rational design. This requires an atomistic understanding of material properties from both a computational and experimental perspective. The large CCLRC central facilities, ISIS, SRS and, in due course, Diamond combined with the computational expertise in the Computer Science and Engineering Department places CCLRC in a uniquely strong position to contribute to the development of new energy materials. At ISIS, for example, UK scientists are able to make detailed studies of materials used in fuel cells, renewable batteries and hydrogen storage materials. With the advent of the ISIS second target station co-located with Diamond, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has the potential to be a leading world centre in the study of energy materials and devices developing not only new materials but also optimising the lifetime performance of devices by rational design from an atomistic understanding of material processes. Whilst at the CCLRC's Daresbury Laboratory researchers have been using the SRS to understand the complex processes involved in the cycling of natural and man-made metals through the Earth, as well as examining new materials for use as anode catalysts in fuel cells (which would be a key part of hydrogen fuelled transport systems).

INERTIALLY CONTROLLED FUSION

  10.  Recent results from the British-Japanese collaborative experiments in Osaka have dramatically changed the landscape for fusion research, bringing us a step closer to realising the production of relatively inexpensive, full-scale fast ignition laser facilities. It is important that UK and other European agencies respond urgently to the new opportunities presented by identifying a strategy to ensure that advantage is taken of the UK expertise in the field. The costs of building a dedicated laser system are comparatively modest: £400-500 million. This is very much less than the alternative technologies, either for magnetic confinement fusion ($5 billion for ITER) and inertial confinement using the lasers being constructed for weapons programmes ($3-4 billion for NIF). The funding of a project of this magnitude could well be considered in the European context. The construction of this IFE laser in the UK would enable its industry to capitalise on the intellectual lead that its scientists have built in this field. The UK is world-leading in the delivery of ultra-short pulse, intense laser systems—the design and construction of a new IFE laser would keep the UK at the leading edge of laser technology.

MUON CATALYSED FUSION

  10.  Studies at the RIKEN-RAL Muon Facility at the ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source are exploring the fundamental mechanisms of the muon catalysed fusion process with the aim of maximising the number of fusions, and hence the energy output, per muon. This includes attempting to reduce the processes that compete with the muons producing fusion events, together with exploring the benefits of temperature and pressure changes. The RIKEN-RAL Muon Facility represents an investment of some £25 million from Japan via the RIKEN Institute to the ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source at CCLRC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The Facility performs fundamental and applied research using positive and negative muons; muon catalysed fusion research has been ongoing since 1996.

ACCELERATOR TECHNOLOGY

  11.  CCLRC central facilities are well-placed through their expertise in accelerator technologies to contribute to the long-term storage issues facing the nuclear industry. Target and accelerator engineers and scientists are able to provide detailed appraisal and evaluation of radioactive burning as a method of dealing with spent fuel (and, in particular, the minor actinides) at the backend of the nuclear fuel cycle. In the future, CCLRC is placed to help realise a multi-megawatt radioactive burning facility that is extrapolated from ISIS technologies.

INSTRUMENTATION

  12.  CCLRC's Instrumentation Department has considerable experience in designing, building and installing sophisticated instrumentation and control systems. This experience and skill base has wide applicability in the field of energy RD & D—in particular in the field of energy conservation and efficiency, but also in novel devices.

TO IDENTIFY WHICH TECHNOLOGIES ARE, OR SHOULD BE, RECEIVING SUPPORT, AND HOW MUCH INVESTMENT IS DIRECTED AT RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND DEMONSTRATION RESPECTIVELY

  13.  The CCLRC recognises that energy RD&D needs to be carried out in close partnership with industry but suggests that there should also be a well-resourced programme of "blue sky" research in novel areas—for example, inertially controlled fusion (a fusion process which uses high powered lasers rather than a Tokamak), the development of novel materials, and the possible treatment of nuclear fuel using accelerator technologies.

  14.  The CCLRC also believe that there should be a concerted co-ordinated RD&D programme on sustainable hydrogen energy technology (ie hydrogen created by electrolysis of water with non-fossil fuel generated electricity), and energy storage technologies. Both areas have been identified as priority areas by Foresight as the long-term potential gains are large—particularly in the area of transport. However, early research activity is required if the UK is to develop and maintain a competitive advantage. The CCLRC has therefore recently made a proposal to the EPSRC to establish such a sustainable hydrogen facility at its Rutherford Appleton Laboratory site.

  15.  CCLRC believes that the development of new materials, and the optimisation of existing materials, is crucial to many areas of energy RD&D and would urge that such work be given a high priority.

  16.  CCLRC recognise the importance of finding appropriate technical solutions to the long-term issues facing the nuclear issues, and would suggest that novel techniques (such as radioactive burning of waste) should be appraised and evaluated, as well as continuing existing work on the best way to store nuclear waste products.

  17.  The CCLRC would also suggest that the UK should consider undertaking research into energy supply in developing countries (an area which is often neglected in energy research strategies).

TO ASSESS THE SKILLS BASE AND THE STATE OF RD&D FOR DIFFERENT TECHNOLOGIES

  18.  The CCLRC would also emphasise that all energy industries, be they conventional (fossil fuel and nuclear fission), new (renewable energy), or emerging (hydrogen energy), will require a supply of qualified staff, and that there is a need for a co-ordinated programme of training. State-of-the-art training needs to build upon an active research community within the university and research sectors. At present there are relatively few centres of energy expertise within the UK. The CCLRC would be delighted to play an appropriate role in such a training programme.

TO ESTABLISH HOW GOVERNMENT POLICY ON ENERGY AND RD&D IS FORMULATED, IMPLEMENTED AND EVALUATED, AND THE NATURE OF COORDINATION BETWEEN DEPARTMENT, EXTERNAL AGENCIES AND INDUSTRY

  19.  The current UK programme of Energy RD&D involves many agencies including the Research Councils, DTI, DEFRA, the Carbon Trust, the Energy Savings Trust, as well as the emerging Regional and devolved bodies. The Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) report highlighted that the UK funding for Energy RD&D is below that of our partners and competitors, and also suggested the need for a more co-ordinated approach. As a provider of major research facilities to the UK academic community, including at its Rutherford Appleton Laboratory site an Energy Research Facility, the CCLRC agrees with these suggestions and states its eagerness to work in support of these objectives.

  20.  The PIU report suggested the creation of a new cross-cutting Sustainable Energy Policy Unit—the CCLRC would welcome an active dialogue and involvement with such a Unit, should it be created.

  21.  The CCLRC would also suggest that RD&D should continue to be undertaken in the more established energy technologies—which range from energy conservation, to the newly created wind energy industry. There is a strong case for the academic research community to contribute to the innovation required by industry to make technological advances in established energy technologies. Such joint working should be strongly encouraged, as often academic advances in existing established technologies will be as useful and productive (in the short term) as fundamental advances in new areas. For example, the development of new electricity transmission techniques would be of major importance to the exploitation of the UK offshore wind energy resource.

  22.  The report of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Energy Research Review Team recommended the establishment of a national energy research centre. The CCLRC has recently been involved in discussions with the other Research Councils about setting up such a centre, and endorses the suggestion with enthusiasm. Indeed, it believes that its long experience in energy research of all kinds, its location, its independent status, its broad cross-cutting research programme, and its existing contacts with many industrial and academic bodies make it well suited to play a major role in a distributed centre which drew together existing centres of excellence in a co-ordinated network (Annex B).

TO ESTABLISH THE LEVEL AND RATIONALE FOR INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION IN ENERGY RD&D AND HOW THE PRIORITIES ARE DETERMINED

  23.  The CCLRC is an active participant in European Commission energy programmes—of particular relevance are those funded under Framework V's ENERGIE programme. Staff of the CCLRC have recently submitted Framework VI Expressions of Interest, and are eagerly awaiting the publication of the Framework VI work programme.

  24.  The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change (of which the CCLRC is a founder partner) is studying the potential impact of Climate Change and the measures that should be taken to adapt and mitigate these impacts, including the sequestration of carbon and the use of non-carbon energy technologies. This work should not only continue, but be extended to include further co-operation with European institutes.



 
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