Submission from Research Councils UK (RCUK)
The Research Councils seek to support a full
spectrum of energy research and postgraduate training together
with expanding UK university research capacity in energy related
areas. The Research Councils' Energy Programme builds on a substantive
portfolio of activities bringing together researchers from many
disciplines to tackle the research challenges involved in developing
and exploiting energy technologies and understanding their environmental,
economic and social impact. The Energy Programme's vision for
energy research is to position the UK to successfully develop
and exploit sustainable, low-carbon and/or energy efficient technologies
and systems to enable it to meet the Government's midterm and
long-term energy and environmental targets.
Recognising the scale and urgency of the energy challenge
expenditure on energy research by the Research Councils has increased
from £40 million 2004-05 to approximately £77 million
in 2007-08. Within this the renewable energy expenditure has increased
from £8.3 million to £18.8 million. The development
of the Energy Technologies Institute provides an opportunity to
further strengthen the pull through from the research base and
for accelerated deployment of new energy technologies. However,
given the urgent need for increased investment in energy and the
focus on applied research, development and early stage demonstration
being developed for the Energy Technologies Institute, ETI should
be funded to be additional to the current Research Councils' programme
and not replace it.
The Research Councils employ a variety of approaches
in support of renewable energy research, in particular the Sustainable
Power Generation and Supply (SUPERGEN) initiative has sought to
build a critical mass in the UK community through multidisciplinary
consortia in themes ranging from Photovoltaics, Fuel Cells and
Wind Energy Technologies through to Bioenergy, Hydrogen and Marine.
SUPERGEN has brought together both researchers in universities
and industry, linking those engaged in novel research with the
ability to exploit any potential outcomes.
A whole systems approach to energy research
is also considered by the Research Councils to be important as
delivered, for example, through the Towards a Sustainable Energy
Economy (TSEC) programme which funds the UK Energy Research Centre
(UKERC). UKERC has a unique role in integrating the different
disciplines of the energy research community, supporting interdisciplinary
studentships, developing an energy research atlas and providing
authoritative technology and policy assessments.
The maintenance and development of the skills
base in renewable energy research is an objective of the Research
Councils' Energy Programme. This occurs through a combination
of both responsive and strategic approaches across all of the
main renewable energy themes. The research councils all support
studentships in renewable energy and the number of students has
increased markedly since 2004, in particularly through TSEC, UKERC,
and the SUPERGEN consortia. The number of EPSRC project students
funded has increased from 37 to over 100 since 2004-05, and there
are also a substantial number of other studentships. Also, two
EPSRC Science and Innovation awards have been awarded to increase
research capacity in identified key renewable energy areas.
The Research Councils recognise the importance
of strong partnerships and engagement with research users such
as industry in order to meet their needs and increase knowledge
transfer and economic impact. This engagement of industry stakeholders
in shaping long-term priorities occurs through a variety of channels
including Energy Summits and membership of the Energy Research
Partnership. The strategic engagement is coupled with close partnership
in delivery through activities such as the Technology Programme
and Strategic Partnerships with Industry, for example with, E-ON,
ABB, EdF and Scottish Power. The Research Councils will also shortly
complete a public dialogue exercise to gain a better understanding
of public priorities for future energy research.
1. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic
partnership set up to champion the research supported by the seven
UK Research Councils. Through RCUK the Research Councils are working
together to create a common framework for research, training and
knowledge transfer. Further details are available at www.rcuk.ac.uk
2. This evidence is submitted by Research
Councils UK on behalf of five of the Research Councils (Biotechnology
and Biological Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social
Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council,
Natural Environment Research Council, and Science and Technology
Facilities Council) and represents their independent views. It
does not include or necessarily reflect the views of the Office
of Science and Innovation (OSI). RCUK welcomes the opportunity
to respond to this inquiry from the House of Commons Science and
3. This memorandum provides evidence from
RCUK in response to the questions outlined in the inquiry document,
including additional material from:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences
Research Council (BBSRC)Annex A Economic and Social
Research Council (ESRC)Annex B Engineering and
Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)Annex C Natural
Environment Research Council (NERC)Annex D Science
and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)Annex E
The UK Government's role in funding research and
development for renewable energy-generation technologies and providing
incentives for technology transfer and industrial research and
4. The research councils have a key role
in supporting the fundamental science that underpins energy research,
and precompetitive research that will position the UK to most
effectively develop and exploit technology advances. More applied
business-led research, development and demonstration is supported
by, for example, the Technology Strategy Board, Department of
Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR), the Carbon
Trust, DEFRA,and RDAs. The Research Councils develop programmes
in consultation and sometimes jointly with other funders such
as the Carbon Trust, DBERR and the Technology Strategy Board.
The Energy Programme's Scientific Advisory Committee includes
members from DBERR and DEFRA. EPSRC, on behalf of all the Research
Councils, is a member of the Energy Research Partnership and EPSRC
has been closely involved with the Energy Research Partnership's
work on the energy innovation chain. The development of the Energy
Technologies Institute provides an opportunity to further strengthen
the pull through from the research base and for accelerated deployment
of new energy technologies. However, given the urgent need for
increased investment in energy research, development, demonstration
and deployment (RDD&D) and the focus on applied research,
development and early stage demonstration being developed for
the Energy Technologies Institute, ETI should be funded to be
additional to the current Research Councils' programme and not
5. The principal Research Councils supporting
energy research are the BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, NERC and STFC. In
2005, the Councils established a joint Energy Programme,
coordinated by EPSRC. The Programme's vision for energy and climate
change research is to position the UK to successfully develop,
and exploit sustainable, low-carbon and/or energy-efficient technologies
and systems to enable it to meet the Government's midterm and
long-term energy and environmental targets. The Energy Programme
is steered by the Cross-Council Programme Co-ordination Group
(PCG), which has representatives from all five of the above Councils,
and is advised by the Cross-Council Scientific Advisory Committee
6. The Programme builds on an existing substantial
portfolio of activities, and brings together researchers from
many areas to tackle the research challenges involved in developing
new energy technologies and understanding the environmental, economic
and social implications. The Councils seek to support a full spectrum
of energy research and expand UK university research capacity
in energy related areas. Research Councils work in partnership
with others to contribute to the postgraduate training needs of
energy related business and other key stakeholders and recognise
the importance of conducting technology-based research in the
context of a thorough understanding of environmental impacts markets,
consumer demand and public acceptability; cross-Council initiatives,
often in collaboration with stakeholders, play a crucial role.
7. Expenditure on energy research by the
Research Councils has increased substantially in recent years,
from about £40 million in 2004-05 to approximately £77
million in 2007-08. Much of the increase has occurred in the engineering
and technology areas although there is also a substantial investment
8. Research Council spend on renewable energy
research has increased from £8.3 million in 2000-01 to £18.8
million in 2006-07 (Table 1). Recognising the importance, scale
and urgency of the energy challenge, the Research Councils are
committed to supporting a full spectrum of renewable energy research.
SUMMARY BY FINANCIAL YEAR OF THE RESEARCH
COUNCILS EXPENDITURE (in £,000s) ON RENEWABLE ENERGY ACTIVITIES
|Fuel cells & Hydrogen||£981
|Wave & tidal||£300
9. The Research Councils' main funding mechanism for
renewable energy research is through the directed activities of
each Council which include, for example, the SUPERGEN
Programme and the TSEC57 Programme, and through the Research Councils
(funded by BBSRC, ESRC, EPSRC and NERC) adopts a multidisciplinary,
whole-systems approach to energy research and is a broad-based
programme that aims to enable the UK to access a secure, safe,
diverse and reliable energy supply at competitive prices, while
meeting the challenge of global warming.
SUPERGEN is a multidisciplinary initiative led
by EPSRC and involving BBSRC, ESRC, NERC and with funding from
the Carbon Trust). The initiative builds critical mass in energy
research to help the UK meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets
through a radical improvement in the sustainability of power generation
and supply. Researchers work in consortia, multidisciplinary partnerships
between industry and universities, focused on major programmes
10. The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) (funded by
ESRC, EPSRC and NERC) is a key component of the Research Councils
directed activities. UKERC's mission is to be the UK's pre-eminent
centre of research, and source of authoritative information and
leadership, on whole system energy research including renewable
energy. UKERC seeks
to bring together government, industry and the research community;
be a networking centre to co-ordinate UK research, facilitate
industry collaboration and promote UK participation in international
projects; be a centre of excellence in research and training and
help maximise returns from research investment. UKERC is making
a separate submission to this inquiry.
11. Additionally a substantial portfolio of renewable energy
research is also supported through the Councils' responsive mode
activities, which allow novel, blue skies research or more applied
proposals to be submitted in any research area within or across
the individual Councils' remits. All applications, whether responsive
or under directed programmes, are peer reviewed and judged on
the basis of scientific excellence.
Skills and capacity
12. Skills and training are mainly addresses in two ways;
Project studentships and Collaborative Training Accounts (CTAs)
[EPSRC] and Masters' courses (NERC, and EPSRC through the CTAs)
and Doctoral Training Accounts (DTAs) [EPSRC]. There are also
other training activities such as industrial CASE awards that
support small number of studentship. CTAs allow a single flexible
mechanism for funding all EPSRC schemes that link postgraduate
training with the workplace, such as Masters Training Packages,
Engineering Doctorate, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, Research
Assistants into Industry, Industrial CASE and CASE for New
Academics. They provide a responsive approach to training driven
by the market needs as they allow universities the flexibility
to deploy funds in response to emerging themes and industry needs.
13. The Councils the Councils recognise the need for
a balanced portfolio of studentships across the main renewable
energy themes and strategically intervene where appropriate. An
example of this is in the SUPERGEN programme where increased numbers
of project studentships have been encouraged, and in the TSEC
programme and UKERC. Research Councils also invest in PhD studentships
in the renewable energy area through responsive routes
14. To further increase capacity in this area EPSRC has
made two Science & Innovation (S&I) awards
in renewable energy to date: the £3M Centre for Integrated
Renewable Energy Generation and Supply (CIREGS), at Cardiff University,
and the £2.7 million award to the University of Strathclyde
focusing on future trends in power technology. The Research Councils
Energy Programme also contributes to the ESRC-led inter-disciplinary
early career fellowships scheme.
15. In March 2007, BBSRC launched an Initiative in Capacity-building
in Bioenergy Research,
with up to £20M available to support high-quality applications.
The initiative seeks to create greater research capacity in the
UK by encouraging collaborative research between biologists, engineers,
physical, social and environmental scientists.
16. The Research Councils are working closely to help
meet the technology, policy and postgraduate training needs of
energy-related businesses and other key stakeholders. The recently
held third energy Summit consulted with the user community on
their postgraduate training needs, and the outputs will be used
to advise future training investment. UKERC has established a
Research Atlas including
an on-line searchable database of energy-related awards and projects
and analyses of capabilities and progress by technology that is
available to all stakeholders.
Knowledge transfer and collaboration with other stakeholders
17. As the Councils fund fundamental science it is important
that strong partnerships and increased engagement with research
user stakeholders is made in order to improve, and increase, knowledge
transfer and economic impact. Within the Energy Programme, and
specifically the engineering and physical sciences portfolio on
renewables, 45% of projects involve collaboration with industry,
resulting in £12.7M of direct and indirect support to UK
universities over the lifetime of the projects.
18. Engagement of industry stakeholders in shaping the
long-term strategic priorities of the Energy Programme has also
occurred through three Energy Summits organised by EPSRC. The
summits have been designed to gather together key industry opinion
formers and seek their views on potential priorities and opportunities
for the research base. In May 2007 the most recent Summit focused
on business-led requirements for trained people in energy related
19. In addition to SUPERGEN and TSEC there are a number
of examples of projects supported jointly with stakeholders together
with activities to exploit industry-led research priorities appear
in the section on specific technologies and the section on feasibility.
In summary they include:
Rural Economy & Land Use (RELU) Programme
(involving BBSRC, ESRC, NERC, Defra and SEERAD) and designed to
study the social, economic and environmental implications of increased
land use for energy crops
Technology Programme (TSB, EPSRC) leveraging £11.6M
of industry and DTI funding across eight independent renewable
Industrial Partnership Award Scheme and LINK (BBSRC)
to encourage industry participation in bio-related energy research
E.ON, ABB Scottish Power and EdF Strategic Partnerships
(EPSRC) undertaking research into active network management for
distributed energy generation
Technology Partnership Scheme (STFC) transferring
core underpinning capabilities in instrumentation, engineering,
sensor technology and Microsystems prototyping to universities
Energy Research Unit (STFC) undertaking collaborative
research with university and industry groups as well as provision
of a renewable energy test site for use in applied projects.
STFC has invested in the development of new facilities
available to stakeholders for research into materials for renewable
energy technologies; A facility for the combinatorial synthesis,
atomistic characterisation during in situ cycling and synthesis
of hydrogen storage materials; A nanostructure facility and a
new High Performance Computation facility for investigating novel
Several of NERC's research and collaborative centres
(RCCs) conduct research on or relevant to renewable energy technologies,
much of it in collaboration with universities, other institutes
20. The Research Councils are involved with the establishment
of the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI). The aim of ETI is
to accelerate the development and exploitation of new energy technologies.
ETI will focus on applied research, development and small scale
demonstration. It is important however that public support for
the ETI must not be at the expense of basic and strategic long-term
research into renewable energy technologies which underpin their
21. A primary objective for the Research Councils energy
programme is to increase the international visibility and level
of international collaboration within the UK energy research portfolio.
With advice from the SAC an international vision for the energy
programme has been developed which has identified target countries
for priority action which include, China, India, South African,
USA, Europe and Brazil. In addition the Councils have appointed
Professor Nigel Brandon, Imperial College, as an energy senior
research fellow to be an envoy and advocate for the Research Councils'
Energy Programme within the International community.
22. UK and Chinese researchers have been brought together
in renewable energy through the TSEC "International Networking
for Young Scientists Working on Renewable EnergyChina:UK
Partnership". Also, funding for a follow-up call for research
proposals with China and South Africa has been allocated for the
second half of 2007.
23. Other highlights within the international energy
International development projects in bioenergy
for Africa and India; the SCORE project, involving Los Alamos
National Laboratory as well as research groups in Africa and India;
and a project researching enhanced biomass production for energy
generation in water scarce regions of India.
UKERC has bilateral meetings with China, India,
Japan and Italy and hosted the pre-Gleneagles G8 summit with a
workshop of the G8+5.
Hydrogen scholarships: Involving an exchange of
UK students researching hydrogen as an energy vector with the
Sandia National Laboratory and US Department of Energy (DoE).
The current state of UK research and development in, and the
deployment of, renewable energy-generation technologies including:
offshore wind; photovoltaics; hydrogen and fuel cell technologies;
wave; tidal; bioenergy; ground source heat pumps: and intelligent
grid management and energy storage
24. The UK has a strong, internationally leading, research
base in most of the key renewable energy technologies. However,
many of them require significant progress in underlying engineering
physical, biological, natural and social sciences. The Research
Councils are committed to supporting a full spectrum of renewable
energy research and given the importance, scale and urgency of
the challenges relating to energy it is important that investment
levels are not only sustained but continue to grow. This section
outlines the contribution being made by the Research Councils
and their research centres/institutes to research into the specific
technologies listed in the Inquiry Announcement.
25. Within this technology area significant research
challenges exist in improving efficiencies, improving reliability,
handling intermittency of supply and environmental issues together
with public perception and acceptability.
26. The SUPERGEN Wind Energy Technologies Consortium
led by the Universities of Strathclyde and Durham consists of
nine research groups and brings together wind turbine technology
and aerodynamics expertise with other specialists from outside
the wind industry in hydrodynamics, materials, electrical machinery
and control, reliability and condition monitoring. The Consortium's
key objective is to undertake research to improve the cost-effective
reliability and availability of existing and future large-scale
wind turbine systems in the UK.
27. Several NERC research and Collaborative Centres,
the British Geological Survey (BGS), Plymouth Marine Laboratory
(PML), Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL) and Scottish Association
for Marine Science (SAMS), conduct research relevant to the siting
and development of offshore wind turbines. For example, the BGS
seabed-mapping programme is directly relevant to site investigation,
and research is currently in progress studying sandbanks and their
historical evolution and movement and potential for future movement.
Further information is in Annex D.
28. In 2006 UKERC published a highly regarded report
on "The Costs and Impacts of Intermittency",
dealing largely with the intermittency inherent in wind generators.
The report was targeted at non-specialists and policy makers,
but also provided new information for the expert community.
29. Advanced wind turbine designs are under development
through the UpWind project supported by the EU and involving STFC
as a partner.
Solar, Especially Photovoltaics (PV)
30. In PV technology research challenges exist in materials,
efficiency and cost-reduction in photovoltaic technology.
31. Dye-sensitized and Organic PV is an area with much
active research, it promises cheap lightweight, flexible solar
cells that could be used in a huge number of applications. The
Excitonic Solar Cell Consortium
(SUPERGEN) brings together leading UK researchers from Bath, Imperial
College, Edinburgh and Cambridge in this field and is exploring
the potential for the next generation of organic and dye-sensitised
32. Semiconductor PV challenges are to develop more efficient
and cheaper materials. The Photovoltaic Materials for the 21st
Century (PV21) Consortium (SUPERGEN) is conducting research into
the generation of electrical energy from sunlight using advanced
wafer silicon and thin film devices with the primary objective
of making a step change in the reduction in the cost of solar
cells. The Consortium is lead by the Universities of Bath and
Durham and involves four leading academic partners and seven main
33. Other themes within the solar technologies area include:
Solar concentrators which can be used to focus
sunlight onto PV cells, improving efficiencies considerably. However,
there are issues with UV radiation and thermal damage. Research
in this area is undertaken in conjunction with semiconductor PV
Solar thermal concentration, which captures the
sun's energy first as heat and then converts it into electricity
in a conventional generator, is a relatively well-developed technology,
although there is limited application in the UK, and therefore
little R&D, because of the climate.
Direct solar conversion is mainly by photosynthesis
and electrochemical methods and may be used to generate liquid
fuels directly. There is a strong capability in the UK in this
area and research is supported by both EPSRC and BBSRC.
34. UKERC is investigating PV in its Future Sources of
Energy theme. They have mapped the research landscape and a road
map for development has been drafted and is undergoing peer review.
The topic is led from Loughborough University.
Hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies
35. Fuel cells are an area of intense academic and industrial
research; the technology is becoming increasingly mature especially
for static large facilities, though there are still issues regarding
small mobile applications. Research challenges exist with regard
to fuel cell integrity, durability, power density and fuel flexibility.
36. The Fuel Cells Consortium
(SUPERGEN) led by Imperial College London and the University of
Newcastle upon Tyne aims to investigate and mitigate some of the
key challenges facing fuel cell development. The Consortium, in
partnership with Ceres Power, Johnson Matthey, Rolls Royce and
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, are researching the
production of a thick-film solid oxide fuel cell with "zero"
leakage, significant improvement of fuel cell durability by halving
the current degradation rate and to substantially improve the
power density of existing fuel cells.
37. The Biological Fuel Cells Consortium
(SUPERGEN) led by the University of Surrey is concerned with the
harnessing of biological materials as alternative fuels and catalysts
for electrochemical energy generation systems. Unlike conventional
fuel cells bio-fuel cells operate at ambient temperatures, atmospheric
pressure and neutral pH thus offering potential benefits to the
environment, waste management portable electronics and implantable
38. Hydrogen is the fuel currently most focused in support
of fuel-cell technology. It is a vector rather than an energy
source. Research is addressing the technology involved in generating,
storing, and distributing hydrogen, as well as the socio-economic
impacts of safety, regulation, economics and public acceptability.
Efficient and safe storage is critical. Current storage densities
are insufficient, though there have been advances in capacity
in recent years that indicate that commercially competitive levels
of storage should be achievable. Examples of significant projects
in hydrogen are:
Sustainable Hydrogen Energy Consortium
(UK-SHEC) (SUPERGEN) is conducting novel research into producing,
storing, distributing and using sustainable hydrogen as an energy
carrier. This project is led by the Universities of Oxford and
A multidisciplinary project on hydrogen production
using solar energy has recently been awarded to Imperial College.
The project will research the exploitation of low temperature
natural biological and photocatalytic processes to develop alternative,
and cost effective, methods for harvesting solar energy to produce
renewable hydrogen fuels directly, and to explore how these could
be embedded within novel, integrated energy production systems,
incorporating fuel cell and hydrogen storage technology.
ESRC-funded research at City University has highlighted
the importance of creating market niches, partnering in the supply
chain, government funding for demonstrations and trials, managed
institutional change, and above all the alignment of all these
and is currently examining the role played by different kinds
of support for field trials and demonstration projects in fuel
cells in Europe, the USA and Japan.
Two UKERC studentships at Imperial College, London
are addressing the production and use of hydrogen as a fuel. One
project is investigating the development of intermediate temperature
solid oxide electrolysers for hydrogen production, and another
concerns the preparation and characterisation of new materials
for hydrogen storage.
39. Formic acid (methanoic acid CHOOH) is an alternative
to hydrogen and ethanol as an energy storage vector. It has advantages
over hydrogen in that it can be stored as a liquid at room temperatures
and pressures. It has the benefits of fast oxidation kinetics,
but has not been fully tested as a fuel. Research challenges are:
efficient catalysis, the use in conventional and new fuel cells,
and novel generation methods.
Marine, including wave and tidal
40. The marine environment offers some of the greatest
potential for renewable-energy generation in the UK, not only
from offshore wind turbines, but also from wave-energy devices
and tidal power installations.
41. To exploit wave energy, research must address the
challenges of engineering structures to focus and convert wave
energy, and of ensuring that the structures can survive the hostile
marine environment. Current important development technologies
are the Pelamis device, the Manchester bobber and marine turbines.
Industry and government-supported pilot activities are under way
with demonstration arrays planned.
42. The Marine Energy Research Consortium
(SUPERGEN) led by Edinburgh University is increasing knowledge
and understanding of the extraction of energy from the sea to
reduce investment risk and uncertainty. This will increase confidence
for future stakeholders in the development and deployment of the
43. The National Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS)
[NERC/Southampton University] conducts wave climate research in
the North Atlantic and British shelf seas, and this is valuable
for assessing the "available resource" for wave energy
and some of the risks for all offshore installations (including
wave and offshore wind). POL conducts offshore wave modelling
and near-shore wave measuringresearch which could underpin
the development of offshore wave power technology.
44. UKERC has marine and offshore topics within its Future
Sources of Energy and Environmental Sustainability themes. The
research landscape has been mapped, peer reviewed and published
(www.ukerc.ac.uk). Further studies are looking at the environmental
capacity and impact of development.
45. The Environmental Mathematics and Statistics programme
(NERC, EPSRC) included a grant for research at Sheffield University
into waves on shallow coastal waters, which have implications
for offshore engineering including renewable energy-generation
46. NERC's Research and Collaborative Centres conduct
a substantial amount of research relevant to the development of
tidal power schemes. Particularly notable is POL's contribution
to the DTI's Renewable Energy Atlas.
Details of this and other POL research, of BGS's seabed-drilling
technology for site investigation, and of SAMS's work on tidal
jets are in Annex D. NERC also supports ecological and biodiversity
research which would be relevant to the siting of tidal barrages.
47. Bioenergy is receiving increasing attention and is
now a reasonably developed area, although it is broad and not
all technologies are equally advanced. The Councils are involved
in research into producing biofuels (including developing and
growing energy crops, and culturing marine algae) and into generating
energy from them as well as fundamental research on plant breeding
and genetics. The main research challenges relate to efficiencies,
process intensification and environmental impacts, depending upon
48. Co-firing of woody biomass is already used in UK
coal-fired power stations, and direct combustion is the most accessible
of the bioenergy technologies. Gasification of biomass produces
synthesis gas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) and
also liquid fuels. Aerobic and anaerobic bio-technologies are
less well developed and there are many challenges in understanding
the basic processes, genetic manipulation, process intensification
etc. These methods can be used to produce bioethanol, hydrogen
and other low-mass chemicals. Research Council supported projects
in this area include:
The Bioenergy Consortium (SUPERGEN)
led by Aston and Leeds Universities and involving the Scottish
Association for Marine Science (SAMS) researching and developing
power generation and fuel production through thermo-chemical conversion
of biomass, particularly from dedicated energy crops such as miscanthus
The TSEC-BIOSYS Consortium
(BBSRC, EPSRC and NERC) coordinated by Imperial College providing
authoritative and independent answers on technical, economic,
environmental and social issues related to the development of
bioenergy in the UK. Specific issues include the potential role
of bioenergy in satisfying UK energy demand, the potential contribution
of bioenergy to UK Government objectives, and the economic, social
and environmental implications of large-scale bioenergy development.
The project will integrate research findings from EPSRC SUPERGEN
Bioenergy and Distributed Generation, EPSRC Sustainable Urban
Environments (SUE), the cross council RELU programme, DEFRA bioenergy
crop networks, Carbon Vision activities, as well as relevant information
from EU and international bioenergy activities.
UKERC Future Sources of Energy and Environmental
Sustainability is looking at life cycle assessment, learning
rates and input into whole system models.
The Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) Programme
funded by BBSRC, ESRC and NERC, with additional funding from SEERAD
and Defra, includes biomass research. The project brings together
a wide range of experts from various institutions, including BBSRC's
Rothamsted Research and NERC's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,
to study the social, economic and environmental implications of
increased land use for energy crops. The aim is to provide an
integrated, interdisciplinary scientific evaluation of the implications
of land conversion to energy crops, focusing on short rotation
coppice (SRC) willow and Miscanthus (elephant grass). The project
has attracted additional funding from DEFRA. A second RELU project
will start later this year to analyse the environmental risks
and conduct cost-benefit analysis of anaerobic digestion in on-farm
BBSRC's Capacity-building in Bioenergy Research
Initiative, mentioned in the introduction, seeks to support
a multidisciplinary bioenergy research centre, multidisciplinary
programme grants with industrial collaboration, and bioenergy
networks to build UK research capacity.
BBSRC is also funding long-term research in its
research institutes into the improvement of energy crops, and
responsive mode research into aspects of plant and microbial science
relevant to bioenergy, for example research into the microbial
conversion of feedstocks to useful products including fuels.
Two of NERC's collaborative centres, PML
and SAMS, are conducting research into the significant potential
for generating energy from marine algal biomass. Details are given
in Annex D.
BEGIN (Biomass for Energy Genetic
Improvement Network). This network is funded by Defra but two
of its three research programmes are led by BBSRC's Rothamsted
Research. It aims to deliver the breeding programme and plant
materials that will allow further improvement of willow for Short
Rotation Coppice (SRC). This will be delivered through a targeted
breeding programme which uses molecular markers, genetic mapping
and genomics to generate optimal varieties of willow. Poplar genomics
is also included. However, there is currently some uncertainty
about the availability of continued funding for this activity.
A recently announced ESRC-funded research
project at Manchester University is comparing innovation processes,
challenges and obstacles for transition to a bio-economy, with
a particular focus on bioethanol in Brazil, the USA and Europe.
NERC is funding a studentship at the University
of Southampton examining the impacts of climate change on the
availability of short-rotation-coppice poplar and willow, and
one at the Scottish Agricultural College modelling scenarios of
the future supply of crop types and forestry for the most efficient
production of biofuels.
Ground-source heat pumps
49. This is one of the weakest areas of renewable energy
research in the UK. The UK investigated its deep geothermal resources
in the 1970s and 80s. BGS was involved in the research and development,
which came to an end largely due to the low prices of competing
energy sources, eg gas. Other countries have continued research
and there are now a number of operating geothermal schemes in
continental Europe in regions with similar sub-surface temperatures
to the UK. The experience of these schemes can be used to reassess
the potential for geothermal energy generation in the UK. The
biggest challenges in the UK are public perception, industry adoption
and market penetration. One of the few examples of larger scale
application in the UKis at CEH in Bangor at the new Environment
Centre, Wales (see annex D).
50. The large-scale use of renewables will involve connecting,
controlling and distributing the electricity generated by thousands
of small highly distributed facilities rather than the large centralised
generating plant we currently have. This will require a radical
redesign of the current distribution network and the control systems
used to balance and control the load.
51. The principal projects supported in this area include:
The SUPERGEN Highly Distributed Power Systems
Consortium is assessing
the impact of smaller generators and incorporating these into
the grid. This project is led by Strathclyde University.
The SUPERGEN Future Network Technologies
is making a major contribution to understanding how networks need
to change so as to support and encourage renewable low carbon
energy sources while providing the standards of service that customers
expect. This Consortium is led by Imperial College London and
the University of Strathclyde.
UKERC's Intermittency report.
52. Much progress has been made in developing capacitors,
supercapacitors and battery technologies. The research challenges
mostly relate to materials research. Whilst energy storage is
not a renewable energy technology per se a good system
of energy storage is critical for wide scale penetration of the
energy market by renewables. This is because energy storage systems
can buffer the fluctuating generation of renewable energy. Related
to this are hydrogen, ethanol and formic acid. All are energy
vectors and can act as energy storage systems and be used in fuel
cells or direct electricity generation.
53. The Energy Storage Consortium
(SUPERGEN) is developing new materials to advance rechargeable
lithium ion battery and supercapacitor technologies. This ability
to store energy cheaply and efficiently is essential for any power
grid that has a contribution of 15% of its energy from renewable
sources due to their inherently intermittent nature. This Consortium
is led by the Universities of Strathclyde and Surrey together
with a number of industrial partners including, AEA Technology,
Huntsman, Johnson Matthey, MAST Carbons and Rolls Royce.
54. BGS (NERC) provides advice on the geological feasibility
of deploying underground storage technologies in the context of
British energy and environmental goals, involving the potential
of energy storage from renewable sources in the form of compressed
air and hydrogen. Such energy storage could help to minimise the
temporal mismatch between supply and demand by storing energy
produced at times of low demand as compressed air and hydrogen
and converting it back to electricity at times of peak demand.
The two basic types of facility within the UK for the storage
of renewable energies are salt caverns and lined rock caverns.
The feasibility, costs, timescales and progress in commercialising
renewable technologies as well as their reliability and associated
55. As indicated in paragraphs 15-19, the Research Councils
recognise the importance of working with industry to transfer
research knowledge, and have developed a number of productive
research partnerships. Involvement of business and other stakeholder
throughout research projects from their design to their completion
is central to most of the Research Councils managed energy activities.
56. Some of the Research Councils are involved in commercialising
the outputs of research conducted in their own research centres.
However, there are currently no examples in the renewable energy
technology area (other than of technologies developed for NERC
centres' own use, eg by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), BGS,CEH,
and POLsee Annex D).
57. Much work into the potential impact and economic
viability of renewable energy is being supported. Within TSEC
the "Managing Uncertainties" theme investigates the
socio-economic challenges and implications of moving towards a
sustainable energy economy; and the "Carbon Management"
and "Renewable Energy" themes each support a consortium
("Carbon Capture and Storage" and TSEC-BIOSYS respectively).
Additionally, UKERC has relevant cross-cutting themes: "Energy
Systems and Modelling"; "Environmental Sustainability";
and "Materials for Advanced Energy Systems".
58. The NERC Programme "Quantifying and Understanding
the Earth System" (QUEST) has agreed to fund a research project
to start in late 2007 at Imperial College that will assess the
potential of biomass energy solutions (along with avoided deforestation
and forest carbon sinks) in the context of sustainability. This
project includes socio-economic and biodiversity considerations
as well as effectiveness in terms of the carbon cycle and will
provide valuable data on the viability of bioenergy.
59. The STFC operates a Proof of Concept fund that is
available for STFC researchers and their HEI collaborators wishing
to take forward ideas to develop new and innovative products and
devices. This scheme is available for all areas of STFC's research
and development portfolioindeed funding has recently been
awarded to develop an online wind energy forecasting tool created
by the STFC's Energy Research Unit.
60. Within the TSEC "Managing Uncertainties"
theme the Beyond Nimbyism project addresses the issues of public
acceptability, perception and engagement and how they affect technology
development and diffusion. It seeks to examine a range of technologies
which are expected to figure in the UK renewable energy profile
to develop a sophisticated understanding of public responses to
such technologies in different contexts.
61. ESRC has recently commissioned comparative research
into the use of renewables demonstrations and trials in North
America, Europe and Japan, to examine their effectiveness in terms
of accelerating innovation, and the impact of external policy
62. ESRC's recently completed Sustainable Technologies
Programme included research examining progress in a range of renewable
technologies, including microgeneration.
The issues covered included areas in which micro-generation (and
household energy-saving investments) suffer from an "uneven
63. Under NERC's strategic priority, Sustainable Economies,
researchers are investigating the environmental, economic and
social impacts of renewable energy sources in terms of their complete
generation cycles, including power source, infrastructure, and
site impacts. For example:
through collaborative work, POL is seeking
to develop models that can demonstrate the impacts of establishing
offshore renewable energy operations;
the SAMS artificial reef programme has contributed
to the understanding of artificial ecosystem creation and manipulation
that will be an essential foundation for offshore wind farms,
tidal barrages and wavepower mooring arrangements;
Under the TSEC-BIOSYS and RELU-Biomass projects,
CEH is looking specifically at the hydrological implications of
and constraints facing bioenergy crops. Field studies of the implications
of bioenergy crops on biodiversity have also been undertaken.
64. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (funded
by ESRC, EPSRC and NERC) is developing comprehensive and systems-level
approaches to decarbonisation both within the UK and within an
international framework, working from the level of national energy
systems, to carbon-intensive sectors, and to the household level
and personal behaviour. One research task is "Avoiding carbon
lock-in by industrialising nations" which includes study
of the mechanisms for technology transfer and the potential for
technological "leap-frogging" of fossil fuelled electricity.
65. A number of NERC's research centres are employing
renewable energy-generation technologies on their main sites or
for field work in remote locations. Details are given in Annex
66. UKERC is identifying and developing road maps for
a number of renewable energy systems in collaboration with a wide
range of stakeholders. Work on the learning rates for new technology
is being undertaken to support modelling using the MARKAL whole
system model and other integrated research projects. Learning
rates are a key component of the rate of uptake and deployment
of novel systems.
Other possible technologies for renewable energy-generation
67. Some other technologies have been mentioned above,
eg alternatives to hydrogen for fuel cells. Two other areas of
research with potential for renewable energy generation are mentioned
below, as is some research into low-head hydro schemes.
68. There is interest in developing artificial devices
for the capture of solar energy, based on the high conversion-efficiency
of the light-harvesting complexes that form part of the photosynthetic
machinery of plants.
69. Thermoelectric materials have the potential to contribute
to renewable energy generation. Where there is a thermal gradient,
some materials will support an induced electrical current, cf
piezoelectric effect. EPSRC has a small portfolio (£1.1 million)
of research in this area.
70. NERC's CEH is researching (in an interdisciplinary
project funded by the Joule Centre) the potential for exploitation
of low-head hydro schemes both within UK
and abroad. The National River Flow Archive
is a database that holds information on a representative set of
gauging stations around Britain from which flow duration curves
can be obtained for any stretch of water. Software packages (HydrA
and Low Flows 2000) have been developed for use in Britain and
abroad that provide interpretation and advice on the suitability
of sites for different styles of turbine.
Research Councils UK
S&I awards are made by EPSRC to build capacity in strategically
important areas of academic research. www.epsrc.ac.uk/ResearchFunding/Opportunities/Capacity/SIAwards/default.htm Back