EPSRC announces £16 million investment in supergen energy hubs and solar network

Three £5 million energy research hubs and a new £1 million network in solar energy that will build multidisciplinary collaborations between universities, academic bodies and industry were announced today by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The three Supergen Energy hubs will be focused on Offshore Renewable Energy, Bioenergy, and Energy Networks, and will involve academics from 19 universities, and 70 stakeholder partners including 22 from industry.

The SuperSolar Network will act as a knowledge exchange mechanism. It will maintain the co-ordinated network for the Photovoltaics (PV) research community in the UK creating greater opportunities for building consortia, reacting to the fast pace of progress in this field and bringing a broad set of disciplines together to focus on this challenge. It will involve academics from 10 universities and six partners four of which are from industry.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Executive Chair, said: As we move towards a low carbon future we need to explore the fundamental science that can spark new technologies and systems as well as linking researchers to industry to meet their needs. As the threats from climate change become ever-more apparent there is a pressing need for the UK, and the world, to act collaboratively to address the challenges of clean energy production, distribution and storage.

Three of EPSRC’s fellow Research Councils are providing funding and other support for the new hubs: the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (bioenergy); the Natural Environment Research Council (offshore renewable energy); and the Economic and Social Research Council (technical and people aspects of all three proposed hubs).

Summaries of the three Supergen hubs:

Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Hub led by Professor Deborah Greaves OBE, Plymouth University

The vision for the hub is to bring together the related research areas of wave, tidal and offshore wind in order to share skills, resources and expertise across the field of ORE. This approach will maintain the UK’s leading position in this field and address technical, environmental and interdisciplinary challenges which require a coordinated response at national and regional level. The hub will build a collaborative approach, which will bring the added benefits of spreading best practice through the community, supporting equality and diversity and ensuring support of early career researchers.

Supergen Bioenergy Hub, to be led by Professor Patricia Thornley, Aston University

The Supergen Bioenergy Hub will bring together a network of academic, industrial and policy stakeholders to address the technical and engineering barriers to sustainable bioenergy systems. Bioenergy is energy from plants, trees and other material that has recently sequestered carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; when it is used to produce energy there is no net, long-term increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration. The project will look to maximise the environmental benefits of sustainable bioenergy, and lead to an integrated, multi-disciplinary consortium to ensure the future of bioenergy research in the UK and the development of a community network to focus on sustainable development.

Supergen Energy Networks Hub, to be led by Professor Phil Taylor, Newcastle University

Despite their vital importance to the UK’s energy sector, industry and society, there is no current whole systems approach to studying the interconnected and interdependent nature of energy network infrastructure, and the challenges it faces. This hub will establish a vibrant, well-connected, diverse, open and communicative energy networks community with a deeper understanding of whole systems approaches to energy networks. The hub will integrate a wide range of stakeholders while complementing national and international investments in energy networks, allowing all stakeholders to fully exploit opportunities in the sector.

The SuperSolar Network led by Professor John Walls, Loughborough University

The SuperSolar Network will act as a knowledge exchange mechanism, maintaining and improving the co-ordinated network for the Photovoltaics (PV) research community in the UK. It will include all solar technologies from fundamental research through to module engineering, champion the role of solar in the overall energy mix and engage all stakeholders in industry, government and finance.

Including practitioners from all areas of solar energy, the Network will identify and support promising new areas of research and reach out into the wider community. Using flexible funding it will assist early stage researchers to spend three months in leading international laboratories where they can access know-how and facilities, learn from best practice and accelerate the impact of research.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and delivered via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Innovate UK, and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The Supergen programme

The Supergen programme was set up in 2001 to deliver sustained and coordinated research on SUstainable PowER GENeration and supply, focusing on eight key research areas: bioenergy; energy networks; energy storage; fuel cells; hydrogen and other vectors; marine, wave and tidal; solar technology; and wind power.

EPSRC​ has supported seven Supergen hubs with £150 million of investment over the last five years (including calls and Centres for Doctoral Training) and the initiative has led to the development of new tools and technologies, such as emission reduction pre-treatment bioenergy technologies; greater collaboration between academia, government and industry; the creation of new strategies and innovation programmes, such as in CHP fuel cells; and provided an opportunity for international collaboration.

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