Industrial Fellowships awarded for engineering projects to help support zero carbon energy

3rd May 2023
Sheryl Miles

Seven talented engineering researchers have been awarded Royal Academy of Engineering Industrial Fellowships for projects that address the journey to a sustainable zero carbon energy future.

Achieving Net Zero will require concurrent, coordinated transformation of multiple vital and interconnected infrastructure systems, and therefore funding for this latest round of Industrial Fellowships was targeted at research and innovation that supported this approach.

For this call for applications, the Industrial Fellowship Scheme was aimed at research and innovation addressing the journey to a sustainable zero carbon energy future, with a broad remit. The National Engineering Policy Centre has published a series of reports addressing Net Zero emphasising that decarbonisation requires concurrent, coordinated transformation of multiple vital and interconnected infrastructure systems. The UK government’s energy security strategy sets similar priorities for long-term transformation of the supply system to ensure secure, clean, and affordable energy.

The successful applicants are addressing a wide range of challenges from improving energy efficiency to the integration and further development of renewable energy sources, including wind power and hydrogen.

The awardees and their industrial partners and projects are:

Dr Massimiliano Materazzi, University College London / Advanced Biofuel Solutions Carbon negative technologies for hydrogen and biofuels production

New hydrogen and sustainable fuels production technologies with a low or even negative carbon footprint will be critical in deciding the roadmap and infrastructure required to reach net zero. Hydrogen and fuels generated from biomass through a process known as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) qualifies as a greenhouse gas removal technology. This project seeks to prove the technical and economic feasibility of advanced BECCS, operating a demonstration plant to upgrade syngas to pure hydrogen, sustainable fuels, and CO2.

Dr Giulio Santori, The University of Edinburgh / Sunamp Industrial-scale manufacturing of heat-powered chillers for energy efficient data centres

Data centres use around 5% of global renewable electricity, committing almost half of it to cooling. The heat emitted represents an opportunity for an emerging technology that is able to use this excess heat to power the cooling technology. This project involves laboratory development of a proof-of-concept cooler that can be readily manufactured at scale.

Dr Sergey Sergeyev, Aston University / Insensys Improving the energy efficiency of wind turbines

This project will develop and explore a novel, cost-effective technique for condition monitoring of wind turbine blades. The approach is based on analysing the fundamental property of light polarisation, and combines fibre optics, laser physics, nonlinear science and signal processing disciplines.

Dr Ming Xie, University of Bath / Waterwhelm Molecular weaving for precise separation membrane

Energy-efficient chemical separation is vital to achieving net zero. This fellowship will provide novel membrane materials with properties we cannot currently achieve and develop a molecular weaving approach for membrane fabrication. The project could potentially revolutionise current separation technology and underpin a new energy- and resource-efficient future.

Dr Tao Yang, University of Nottingham / NEMA High-performance electric drives for net zero transportation

Electrification is one important way to achieve net zero transportation, but it relies heavily on high-speed electric motor drive systems. This project will develop a toolset that enables design and development of electric drives specifically for high-speed motors using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.

Dr Nan Yu, The University of Edinburgh / Levidian Nanosystems Digitalised LOOP plasma process to enable upscaling for rapid decarbonisation

This project aims to establish a digital-twin supported LOOP process – DIGILOOP – which will actualise the upscaling and process optimisation. The DIGILOOP process includes 1D/3D plasma simulation, in-process metrology, and close-loop control to simulate and predict temperature, pressure, concentration, and efficiency of the plasma chemical process in real-time.

Dr Yifan Zhao, Cranfield University / BAM Nuttall A digital twin of construction machinery for improved energy efficiency

This project will develop a commercially viable digital-twin-based solution to ensure the compliance of efficient driving practice of construction machinery by providing personalised and timely feedback to drivers. The digital-twin will be achieved by establishing a first-of-its-kind mini construction testbed and its digitalisation using computer vision, AI, and virtual reality.

An additional fellowship awarded from the previous 2022 funding round:

Dr Sebastian Dixon, University of Cambridge / Paragraf Ltd GRAPHIC: Graphene-Silicon Compatibility for ElectronIC Devices

This project will use state-of-the-art equipment to investigate new buffer materials that will reduce costs and open the door to long-awaited graphene-silicon electronic integration, admitting graphene to the>$400+ billion silicon device market.

More details about each of these Industrial Fellowships can be found on the programme pages of the Academy’s website.

Commitment to improving diversity of future awards

Dr Andrew Clark, Executive Director of Programmes at the Academy, said: “It is exciting to be able to announce our first thematic cohort of Industrial Fellows to address the challenges of sustainable energy. However, we are very disappointed that we received no applications from women to this call, and hence there are no women awardees. Even in the context of the continual inclusion challenges in the engineering research and innovation system, this is unexpected. In previous recent rounds of this scheme, around 20% of awards have been to women, similar to the academic population in relevant fields.

“It matters a great deal to us that we should strive to improve outcomes for all and support an innovation community that is more reflective of the society it serves. We will be looking into any barriers to access and improvements we can make, starting with contacting our partners, universities, and potential applicants.”

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