Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum 30

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

  1.  The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is responsible for promoting and supporting basic, strategic and applied research within its remit for the benefit of the UK. The EPSRC mission is:

    —  to promote and support, by any means, high quality basic, strategic and applied research and related postgraduate training in engineering and the physical sciences;

    —  to advance knowledge and technology, and provide trained engineers and scientists, to meet the needs of users and beneficiaries thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom and the quality of life of its citizens; and

    —  to provide advice, disseminate knowledge, and promote public understanding in the fields of engineering and the physical sciences.

  2.  The EPSRC currently invests around £650 million a year in the science base for research and training in engineering and physical sciences with a view to ensuring that the UK will be prepared for the next generation of technological change.

  3.  The EPSRC welcomes the opportunity to respond to this Inquiry. Further details on EPSRC activities are available at www.epsrc.ac.uk.

ORGANISATION AND FUNDING OF UK MARINE SCIENCE IN THE POLAR AND NON-POLAR REGIONS

EPSRC research funding

  4.  EPSRC supports marine science where there is a strong engineering or physical science element. EPSRC also supports coastal marine research and some areas of underpinning physical science of relevance to marine science. The following research areas are covered in this memorandum:

    —  Coastal and waterway engineering: research on coastal and waterway structures, coastal and waterway management, coastal defences (both "soft" and "hard" defences), beach replenishment, estuarine engineering, reservoir and dam engineering and hydrodynamics (including action of currents and waves, sediment transport, mixing processes, and coastal, estuarine and river dynamics and offshore hydrodynamics).

    —  Fluid dynamics: involves the study of fluids (solid, liquid or gas) moving around structures. It includes techniques covering computational fluid dynamics (CFD), finite element analysis. This is relevant for the study of water flow around marine structures.

    —  Marine engineering: involves the interaction between the oceans and marine structures, both mechanical effects and hydrodynamic interactions. Also includes the design of Marine craft and structures.

    —  Marine Energy: involves the research of wave and tidal energy systems. Most work in this area is done by the Supergen Marine Energy Consortium.

  5.  Due to the nature of marine science, much of the research EPSRC supports interfaces with the remit of other research councils, such as the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (EPSRC, NERC and ESRC) and the UK Energy Research Centre (EPSRC, NERC and ESRC). It should be noted that the aforementioned programmes have some marine science but are mainly focused at broader environmental and related issues. Please also note that NERC is submitting its own evidence to this inquiry.

Funding mechanisms

  6.  The main funding mechanism for marine-related research is responsive mode, which allows novel, blue skies research ideas to be submitted by researchers on any research area within EPSRC's remit for peer review. Applications are judged in competition on the basis of scientific excellence, independently refereed by experts nominated by the applicants and by EPSRC.

  7.  Some marine research is also funded through managed activities which are usually specific to key technology themes, such as the Sustainable Power Generation and Supply Programme. EPSRC also supports the Flood Risk Management Research Consortium (FRMRC www.floodrisk.org.uk), which includes research into coastal defences and flooding.

  Current EPSRC marine science research spend for financial years 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09:


FinancialYear
Total annual marine
science spend

2006-07
£3,138,849
2007-08
£3,519,717
2008-09
£2,966,241


  Please note that the above list is for current grants only. Grants to be announced and planned future activities are not included.

THE ROLE OF THE UK INTERNATIONALLY, AND INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION IN MARINE SCIENCE

  8.  International collaboration is taking place in most of the large research projects in this area. The Tyndall Centre specifically seeks to inform international climate change policy. The Marine Supergen consortium also has close links with Eire, France and the Netherlands within the EU, as well Japan and the US. It is currently making links with China. UKERC has strong international links and represents UK energy, including marine energy, at such organisations as the OECD. EPSRC has also recently provided assistance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Global Opportunities Fund under their Flooding and Coastal Defences call.

SUPPORT FOR MARINE SCIENCE, INCLUDING PROVISION AND DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGY AND ENGINEERING

  9.  The current total spend value of the EPSRC portfolio in marine science for this financial year and the next is shown above. Current project commitment is £12.6 million, £3.3 million commitment for coastal engineering and £9.3 million commitment for marine engineering. Most of this support is made through the responsive mode, However, £2.6 million is directed through the Supergen Marine Energy Consortium which is part of a directed call for renewable energy generation research.

  Please note the total funding does not include the £2 million contribution that EPSRC makes to the Tyndall Centre, as only part of this funding goes to marine science activities.

  10.  EPSRC has recognised the importance of marine energy research and has proposed that marine renewable energy be nominated as a subject for a Science and Innovation Award in the next call. The purpose of Science and Innovation Awards is to secure strategically important research areas that require capacity building in the UK. They are large, long-term grants (typically £3-5 million over five years) supporting staff in a research group, with commitment from the host Higher Education Institution(s) to continue support after the end of the grant.

  11.  The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research is funded by NERC, EPSRC and ESRC. The Centre's total budget for the second phase of funding is £5.677 million over three years. The Centre's purpose is to research, assess and communicate from a distinct trans-disciplinary perspective, the options to mitigate, and the necessities to adapt to, climate change, and to integrate these into the global, UK and local contexts of sustainable development. Tyndall's Sustainable Coast Programme addresses the vulnerability of the coastal regions to increased sea levels, changing storms and other climate changes by developing integrated methods for analysing adaptation options for the sustainable governance of coastlines. The total expenditure in this theme is expected to be in the region of £613k over the life of the current funding phase. More information on the Tyndall Centre can be found on their website, http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/index.shtml. Specific information on the Sustainable Coasts Programme can be found here:

    http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/research/programme5/programme5.shtml

    Supergen Marine Energy consortium

  12.  The major EPSRC activity in marine energy is the Sustainable Power Generation and Supply Marine Energy research consortium. Information on the specific activities can be found on their website www.supergen-marine.org.uk. The Marine Energy Consortium is a £2.6 million (commitment) project headed by Professor Robin Wallace at the University of Edinburgh and involves Heriot-Watt University, Lancaster University, Robert Gordon University and the University of Strathclyde. It is closely collaborating with 27 energy companies, including large companies such as Siemens, QinetiQ, and Scottish and Southern power, as well as many small renewable energy companies.

  13.  The Marine Energy Consortium funding has recently been renewed and will bring the Queen's University Belfast into the consortium. Funding will increase to £5.5 million (commitment) for the next phase of work that will run from the 1 October 2007 to the 31 September 2011. The programme includes work on: device arrays and how these will influence local and regional environmental conditions; radical design approaches, which take into account new philosophies of design guidance; ensuring that numerical and physical design support is consistent and robust; the challenges posed by design in mixed tidal and wave environments; system control in complex non linear and evolving environments; the complex challenges posed by fixing, mooring and recovery of marine systems; the economic challenges posed by the variable and intermittent nature of the marine resource; the sparse information available to predict and assess the long term reliability of marine energy systems and how an increased understanding of all of these issues can be best disseminated within the stakeholder community.

  14.  The UK Energy Research Centre is supported by EPSRC, ESRC and NERC. It was set up in 2004 to be a centre of research, and source of authoritative information and leadership, on sustainable energy systems. UKERC organises its networking and research activity under six related themes:

    —  Demand Reduction.

    —  Future Sources of Energy.

    —  Energy Infrastructure and Supply.

    —  Energy Systems and Modelling.

    —  Environmental Sustainability.

    —  Materials for Advanced Energy Systems.

  And four functions:

    —  Technology and Policy Assessment.

    —  Meeting Place.

    —  Research Register.

    —  Energy Data Centre.

THE STATE OF THE UK RESEARCH AND SKILLS BASE UNDERPINNING MARINE SCIENCE AND PROVISION AND SKILLS AND TO MAINTAIN AND IMPROVE THE UK'S POSITION IN MARINE SCIENCE

Marine research in UK universities

  15.  The main universities with strength in marine engineering are the University of Strathclyde, the University of Edinburgh, Southampton University, the University of Newcastle and Imperial College London. Many other UK universities have capability in this area also. It should be noted that most of the universities strong in marine engineering are in the traditional shipbuilding cities. Many of these have transferred their skill to serve the offshore oil industry. Additionally many of these universities have now acquired capability in marine energy generation research.

Skills base

  16.  As with many scientific disciplines the supply of undergraduates in this area is of general concern. Undergraduate courses are of course outside the remit of EPSRC. However it does impact on the provision of suitable candidates for the post graduate research and training, which is our remit. Marine research capacity related to energy is a specific concern to EPSRC—hence its consideration for inclusion in the next round of S&I awards.

Links to other relevant UK groups

  17.  EPSRC is represented on both the Aerodynamics National Advisory Committee (ANAC) and the Hydrodynamics National Advisory Committee (HNAC) that reports to the ANAC. The HNAC is undertaking a roadmapping exercise into marine engineering capabilities in the UK. The HNAC has input into the DTI marine sector technology plan that can be seen on the link below.

    http://209.85.135.104/search?q=cache:wARS0cfJY_YJ:www.dti.gov.uk/files/file21438.doc +hydrodynamics+national+advisory+committee&hl=en&gl=uk&ct=clnk&cd=1

USE OF MARINE SITES OF SPECIAL SCIENTIFIC INTEREST

  18.  EPSRC-supported research would not ordinarily involve the use of SSSIs. The academic study of these areas would fall mainly under the BBSRC or NERC remit.

January 2007





 
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