Interview: ECR-Led Workshop with Reace Edwards, David Cann and Laura Herraiz

Reace, David and Laura recently organised an ECR-led workshop, ‘Decarbonisation through Large-Scale Hydrogen Production and CCS Infrastructure’ at the University of Chester, with support from the University of Edinburgh, with funding from the 2019 ECR Activity Fund. Here we interview the group on their experiences of planning the workshop, and share presentations from the day:

Hi Reace (RE), David (DC) and Laura (LH), your workshop looked to be a great success and we’re eager to find out more about how you found the experience, and what benefits you feel were realised. So let’s begin!

Firstly, how did you find organising a workshop, in terms of planning the event from conception to delivery? Was there anything you particularly enjoyed organising? Could you please outline who took what role in organising?

RE: Organising the workshop from start to finish was challenging. When conceiving the idea, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of time required for organising such an event. It’s also easy to overlook some of the minor details which end up being pivotal components of the event. However, the feeling of seeing it all come together on the day is extremely rewarding to the point you forget the previous challenges.

I particularly enjoyed recruiting presenters for the workshop. It was great to have dialogue with presenters and communicate why we were doing this workshop and what the desired outcomes were.

In the earlier stages of organising, all three of us communicated with one another via Skype. Before we made a submission to the ECR Activity Fund, we came up with the main theme of the workshop, identified potential presenters and developed the proposed layout of the day. From that point, we worked together to communicate with presenters and explore various mechanisms of promoting the event. Closer to the date, myself and David worked with colleagues at the University of Chester to ensure that other considerations were taken care of such as catering, room venue, site access and facilities. Prior to the workshop, we all took part in designing the activities for the workshop discussion. On the day, David took the role of chairing the two sessions whilst I escorted attendees across site to stick to safety procedures.

Was there anything you found difficult to organise or that you would do differently next time?

RE: Regarding the promotion of the event, we had great support from UKCCSRC, the University of Chester and other organisations who continuously highlighted this event through their virtual platforms. This significantly raised its profile. But, if we were to run an event like this again in future, I would work to ensure the marketing material was developed at an earlier stage, so it had more time to reach a wider audience.

What input did you have from both Universities, and how did that affect the planning or content of the workshop?

DC: Since the workshop was based at Thornton Science Park, input regarding catering and organising the day was taken care of by the University of Chester. Communication between both Universities facilitated contribution and collaboration in regards to planning out the themes and topics of discussion for the day.

The content of the workshop was focused mainly on activity within industrial clusters so speakers local to the North-West region as well as from Pale-Blu were approached by the respective universities.

How did you decide on the title and theme of the workshop?

LH:  Hydrogen is currently considered a key low-carbon energy vector and is expected to play key roles in a zero carbon economy, for example to decarbonise power, buildings (heating and cooling), transport and industry sectors. Since our research activities are closely related to different aspects of low-carbon hydrogen systems, we considered interesting to organise a workshop on low-carbon hydrogen production with CCS technologies. We joined efforts to bring together industrial and academic experts on the area as well as early career researchers to provide an overview of the current projects and research activities, to enhance knowledge transfer and to identify technical, political, regulatory and social challenges.  Moreover, the fact that the three of us are actively involved in the CCS community through the UKCCSRC, SCCS and so on, helped us to reach a large number of people interested in this topic.

What formats did you feel worked best on the day? 

LH: The agenda of the workshop consisted of two blocks of presentations (at the beginning of the morning and afternoon sessions), each followed by a workshop discussion with enough breaks to promote informal discussions and networking opportunities. Presentations were carefully selected to include speakers from industry and academia and to address crosscutting issues on low-carbon hydrogen systems. The presentations also provided an interesting overview of the current situation of the projects and research activities being conducted in the UK.

We found particularly interesting the workshops discussions in small groups. The first workshop focused on identifying current barriers and challenges faced across the hydrogen production and CCUS chain, as well as the nature of these challenges (e.g. technical, political, regulatory or social challenges); while the second workshop discussion focused on identifying strategies to address some of the previously mentioned challenges. We found out that open-ended questions, unlike specific questions, encouraged interesting discussions and sharing of different points of views.

The poster presentation sessions also helped early career researchers to present their work.

What was your favourite discussion/presentation of the day?

DC: The discussion around the barriers and challenges regarding integration of CCUS and hydrogen and ideas for how to address them was interesting. We were hoping to get answers and discussion around more than just technical aspects, looking at the challenges from all aspects that some people may not have considered before. I think the discussions were successful in that regard.

Did the workshop identify any practical actions or impact on industry? 

LH: The workshop discussions were very useful to identify barriers and challenges faced across the hydrogen production and CCUS chain and to suggest strategies to address some of the previously mentioned challenges. Most of the discussion groups highlighted the need to develop a regulatory framework and the right business models as key aspect for the large scale deployment of low-carbon hydrogen technologies, along with a hydrogen infrastructure. Another key aspect is knowledge transfer across different CCUS clusters in the UK and to the local communities. Enhancing understanding and changing public perception to social acceptance was considering very important to contribute developing a low-carbon hydrogen economy.

What was the nature of feedback received for the workshop?

RE: We’ve had some amazing feedback since the workshop. I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive messages which I’ve received from attendees as well as colleagues from the University of Chester. It’s rewarding to hear that people enjoyed the day and felt they valued from it.

What would you say to other ECRs planning a similar activity?

DC: Planning is clearly important to making these events a success, however our workshop was very well supported by the University of Chester. My advice would be to keep in frequent contact with people who can help you; whether it be by helping in event planning, providing useful contacts for speakers, or even helping to publicise the event.

See the outputs from the day here:

Thanks to Reace, David and Laura for organising such a useful workshop and sharing their presentations and experiences from the day. What an excellent use of our ECR Activity Fund!


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