Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 1

Memorandum from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

  1.  EPSRC supports research and training in the core physical sciences (mathematics, physics & chemistry), underpinning technologies (eg materials science and information & communications technologies) and all aspects of engineering.

  2.  EPSRC awards research grants through two main delivery modes—responsive and managed. Through the responsive mode EPSRC invests in the highest quality research projects, as judged by peer review, within subject areas of the researchers choosing. In managed mode, researchers submit their research ideas in response to a research remit specified by EPSRC and key stakeholders; conditions may be applied to applications, for example the requirement that proposals involve an industrial collaborator.

  3.  EPSRC believes that it is technically feasible to meet the likely shortfall in electricity generating capacity by approaching the "generation gap" from a truly mixed energy supply perspective, including most if not all of energy generation technologies such as renewables, cleaner fossil fuel technologies and nuclear fission and in the longer term fusion power. EPSRC also recognises the huge potential for energy efficiency improvements to lead to a reduction in both energy demand and CO2 emissions.

  4.  Research, development, demonstration and technology transfer are all essential to enable the implementation of innovation in the energy supply market and funding agencies must work in effective partnerships to support innovation. EPSRC would emphasise that the shortage of trained personnel within the energy industry as a key area of concern.

  5.  This memorandum provides an overview of the research in energy supported by EPSRC including current and future activities.


  6.  ESPRC aims to support a full spectrum of energy research to help the UK meet the objectives and targets set out in the 2003 Energy White Paper.

  7.  EPSRC has a large portfolio of research relevant to energy. Research activities include technologies associated with the extraction of energy resources (principally coal, oil and gas), energy production (utilising carbon-based, nuclear, and renewable sources), and electricity transmission and distribution. The transmission and distribution of electricity encompasses research relating to power systems management, protection and control systems, energy vectors such as hydrogen, energy storage and recovery and embedded generation. Research funded includes also some areas of research underpinning the current and future activities in the power sector such as nuclear physics. EPSRC funds also a diverse range of research into the development and introduction of potential energy efficiency measures in areas extending from the built environment to industrial processes and products, from materials to power generation, and from markets and regulation to organisational and individual behaviour. Table 2 summarises EPSRC spent by technology in the financial years from 2000 to date.

Table 2



CO2 Sequestration
Energy Efficiency
Fuel Cell
Hydrogen & Vectors
Wave & Tidal
Grand Total


  1.  Data for TSEC is not included, refer to RCUK overview paragraph 7-9.

2.  Data does not include fusion, refer to paragraph 13.

  8.  EPSRC provides a major investment in renewable energy and related R&D, at a level of £31.7 million in the period 2000-01 to 2004-05. Renewable sources of power include wave, wind, biomass, solar PV, and fuel cells utilising renewable hydrogen sources. The portfolio includes issues relating to the integration of renewable sources of generation into the energy grid. An indicative breakdown of EPSRC's investment classified by technology area is provided in Table 2 although the nature of research is such that it is likely that EPSRC funded research being undertaken in other areas such as materials, chemistry and physics for example may also give rise to useful results in this field. Full details of all of the projects identified by EPSRC as relevant to the inquiry can be provided if required.

  9.  The investment by EPSRC in these areas reflects current and past research priorities in energy research. EPSRC has supported a series of managed programmes in energy-relevant topics including fuel cells, photovoltaics, energy storage, renewable and new energy technologies, and energy supply research for the 21 century. The operation of responsive mode and managed programmes in parallel means that while strategic investment in targeted areas have a significant influence on the overall distribution of research funding, the ongoing award of research grants in responsive mode allows for a broader range of innovative research ideas.

  10.  EPSRC is continuing to make strategic investments in research addressing both the supply and demand side of the energy economy through a major research programme on Sustainable Power Generation and Supply (SUPERGEN). SUPERGEN, started in July 2003, is a multidisciplinary research programme that addresses simultaneously technical solutions and market and public acceptability issues. As such it is ideally placed to inform the development of effective regulatory strategies to enable the transition towards a low carbon economy. EPSRC total investment in SUPERGEN is of £25 million over five years. Research is delivered through multidisciplinary consortia of the order of £2-3 million tackling key challenges in improving the sustainability of the power supply industry. The activities of the SUPERGEN Programme have been expanded into the social, environmental and life sciences to address these challenges. This has enabled SUPERGEN to become a collaborative activity across the research councils including BBSRC, ESRC and NERC. Initial priority areas funded under the SUPERGEN Programme were biomass, wave & tidal generation, hydrogen generation & storage, and future distribution networks. The second phase of the programme, with grants awarded early in 2004, is focusing on conventional generation plant lifetime extension and photovoltaics. The third and fourth phase priorities, with grants awarded between January and August 2005, include fuel cells, energy storage & recovery, distributed technology and next generation photovoltaic materials. Priorities for the fifth phase include wind technologies, biological fuel cells and network infrastructure, these awards are expected to be announced later in 2005. The expectation is that the total value of the Programme over the five-year period, inclusive of third party contributions, will be in excess of £40 million.

  11.  EPSRC is also working in partnership with the Carbon Trust on "Carbon Vision", a £14 million joint R&D programme on low carbon innovation, with additional funding from ESRC and NERC. This Programme is supporting research to underpin the development of tomorrow's low carbon technologies. Carbon Vision current activities are research consortia in low carbon buildings and low carbon industrial processes. The £5.4 million Carbon Vision Buildings consortium, with ESRC contribution, aims to create and assess a range of options whereby the owners and operators of the national building stock can reduce carbon emissions significantly in comparison with today's performance. The Carbon Vision industrial processes consortium (£1 million, with NERC contribution) aims to develop a methodology for a systematic life-cycle estimation of carbon inventories in different industries (food, chemicals, plastic, construction and biomass). EPSRC and ESRC have also invested further £0.8 million in a Carbon Vision project aiming at developing detailed understanding of the barriers that apply at times of disruptive innovation towards low carbon systems, and at identifying responses to these barriers that will promote step changes in carbon efficiency, The Carbon Vision programme includes management arrangements to encourage close co-operation between the research teams. An Engagement Group of key research users is being established for Carbon Vision Buildings to provide advice and guidance to ensure that the Carbon Vision portfolio delivers high quality stakeholder-focused, solutions-driven research. As a final phase of the current Carbon Vision Programme, ESPRC is planning to fund two awards to develop future research leaders in low carbon technology and, in particular, in energy efficiency. Each award will be £1 million to provide research support in terms of staff and other items to excellent researchers with the potential to become international leaders. We will also be looking for commitment from the university in terms of longer term support for the research group and for exploitation. The successful candidates will also be provided with contacts and mentoring to help them develop international and high level business and policy-related contacts.

  12.  A Collaborative Training Account to provide masters level and continuing professional development training in nuclear energy related skills has been funded with £1 million from EPSRC and £1.6 million from various stakeholders such as Government bodies (NDA, MoD, Cogent), regulators (HSE/NII) and leading industrial employers (BNFL (including NSTS, Energy Unit, British Nuclear Group), UKAEA, AWE, Rolls-Royce Naval Marine, Serco, British Energy, Nirex, NIS, NNC, NPL, Mitsui Babcock, Atkins Nuclear, INucE and BNES).

  13.  The Nuclear Technology Education Consortium (NTEC) includes 11 universities and other training partners and the key public and private sector stakeholder groups in the UK. NTEC will cover decommissioning and clean-up, reactor technology and fuel cycles, environment and safety, policy and regulation, project management, fusion and medical use.

  14.  A Letter of Arrangement (LoA) has been agreed between EPSRC, the Ministry of Defence, the Atomic Weapons Establishment, British Nuclear Fuels PLC and British Energy PLC. The first activity under this LoA is to establish a Nuclear Engineering Doctorate (EngD) Centre. The EngD is a four year, industrially relevant doctoral training programme which offers a radical alternative to the PhD, geared to training research managers of the future. It is hoped that the first intake of students will take place in the 2006-07 academic year.

  15.  From April 2003, EPSRC funds the UK fusion programme based at Culham. The UK fusion programme includes the UK participation to the European Programme Joint European Torus (JET) and the development of the UK's own spherical tokamak (the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak MAST). The programme is currently supported by a single large grant of £48 million for four years from April 2004 to March 2008. A mid term review of the activity is scheduled for January 2006 which will review the level of funding for the second half of the grant and to address the current plans for JET extension and the associated host subscription requirements. The research programme funded by EPSRC is aligned to the development of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) and will be enhanced by £8.65 million in this spending review period.

  16.  EPSRC continues to invest in research and training relevant to the oil and gas sector and areas such as clean coal, efficient combustion, combined cycle and gasification technology. EPSRC recognises the potential of carbon sequestration combined with fossil fuel plant as a potential zero-net carbon energy source; this option should be explored further as one of a number of priorities within a broad-based R&D programme.

  17.  EPSRC is working with the DTI under the auspices of the Memorandum of Understanding with the USA on collaboration in energy research, As part of this agreement, this year EPSRC will fund postgraduate research students to spend an additional year working on hydrogen-related research at Sandia National Laboratories in the USA.

  18.  Energy has been identified as a strategic area to be addressed by the EPSRC Science and Innovation Awards programme. Established in partnership with the Higher Education Funding Council, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and the Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland, the Science and Innovation Awards programme aims to address academic capacity needs in areas with declining number of entrants as a result of a changing research landscape. £2.7 million has been awarded to the University of Strathclyde to focus on future trends in power technology.

  19.  Platform grants are one of the key mechanisms by which EPSRC strives towards maintaining and developing the strength of the UK engineering and scientific research base, by supporting, through underpinning funding, those UK groups considered to be world leading in their fields. Platform funding is aimed at providing a baseline of support for retention of key research staff with the aim of providing stability to these groups. It is also anticipated that it will provide the stability and flexibility to permit longer-term research and international networking, and to take a strategic view on their research. An example of such a platform grant is supporting a group at Imperial College London looking at the decentralised polygeneration of energy supply.

  20.  EPSRC supports the establishment of networks in new interdisciplinary research areas to develop and stimulate interactions between the appropriate science, technology research community and industrial groups. An example is the Radioactive Waste Immobilisation Network which aims to provide a forum for all stakeholders to foster an integrated approach to nuclear waste management through improved communication and the identification of new collaborative research programmes.

  21.  The Faraday Partnerships have been established to strengthen the way technology is developed and exploited within the UK by stimulating closer communication and cooperation between researchers and new product developers. DTI and EPSRC sponsor the Integration of New and Renewable Energy into Buildings Faraday Partnership. This provides a national focus for research, training and technology transfer in building-integrated new and renewable energy technologies, relevant to research into energy efficiency. It includes research on options beyond the basic energy efficiency packages of measures in the domestic and non-domestic building sector, with over 225 companies, Universities and other organisations involved. The core funding consists of a grant from the DTI of £1.2 million for three years, and a grant of £1 million from the EPSRC. In addition, ESPRC provided funding for 14 postgraduate studentships in collaboration with industry sponsors.

  22.  50% of EPSRC's current energy research portfolio is conducted in collaboration with industry, involving over 200 companies, with the value of their cash contributions totalling over £7 million.

  23.  Working with the DTI, EPSRC is organising an Energy Research Summit Launch, to be held in November 2005. This will launch the expanded Research Councils' Energy Programme and provide the starting point to develop better strategic engagement on research and training priorities with energy-related business. Participants will be asked to identify common business-led research or postgraduate training opportunities which will then be worked up in more detail, culminating in a second Energy Research Summit in spring 2006.

  24.  EPSRC aim to appoint a prominent member of the energy research community as an energy senior research fellow to be an envoy and advocate for the Research Councils' energy work. In particular, their work will involve developing the international profile and level of collaboration and to provide information to us on potential international research opportunities. The appointment will be made in early 2006.

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