UK universities to partner in Global Centers for researching net zero innovations

Article by Kerry Hebden

A COLLABORATION involving partners in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia, will see a string of UK universities play key roles in the establishment of four Global Centers aimed at accelerating clean energy innovation. 

Led by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), and bolstered by £61m (US$74.4m) in funding, £18m of which is from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Global Centers include: the Global Hydrogen Production Technologies (HyPT) Center, Electric Power Innovation for a Carbon-free Society (EPICS), the Global Center for Clean Energy and Equitable Transportation Solutions (CLEETS), and the Global Nitrogen Innovation Center for Clean Energy and the Environment (NICCEE). 

HyPT is a £14.1m five-year project led by Cranfield University, Arizona State University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of Toronto. UK partners include Imperial College London, Newcastle University, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Birmingham. 

Its aim is to make low-cost, large-scale, clean hydrogen production a reality. 

Net zero hydrogen is currently several times more expensive than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, which is hindering its widespread adoption. But by accelerating net zero hydrogen technologies such as water electrolysis, methane pyrolysis, and photocatalytic solar water splitting, HyPT is aiming to produce hydrogen at just US$1/kg. In comparison, a recent report suggests it currently costs between US$2.38-US$12/kg to produce green hydrogen. 

EPICS is a £6.67m project based at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in the US that will seek to develop the methods and tools needed to establish a 100% emissions-free power grid. 

The EPICS team is comprised of 26 researchers from nine universities, including Imperial College London, which leads the UK contingent (also including University of Edinburgh, Newcastle University, University of Strathclyde) and University of Melbourne.  

CLEETS will focus on reducing emissions from road transport, using three regions as case studies: the West Midlands, and South Wales in the UK, and the Great Lakes megaregion of the US. 

CLEETS will be led in the UK by Jonathan Radcliffe at the University of Birmingham, with an interdisciplinary team of academics who have expertise in energy and transport demand, air quality and health, and local governance. Cardiff University is also a UK project partner, while the Discovery Partners Institute, part of the University of Illinois System, will be leading the project in the US. 

NICCEE is a trilateral partnership between Canada, the US and UK, with the UK represented through Rothamsted Research – one of the oldest agricultural institutions in the world. 

This Global Center will respond to the challenges and opportunities surrounding the production of ammonia using renewable energy – green ammonia.  

Ammonia (NH3) has been widely used as a fertiliser for decades, but the traditional way of making ammonia is to strip hydrogen from natural gas using steam, and then combining the hydrogen with nitrogen from the air at high temperatures and pressures.  

As such, the process is heavily energy-intensive and primarily dependent on fossil fuels. Ammonia production also tends to be centralised, but by adopting a “green ammonia” approach that uses solar energy or other renewable energy supplies, this could lead to decentralisation of fertiliser production. This in turn could limit emissions and bolster food production in countries where nitrogen fertiliser accessibility has been limited. 

NICCEE will also aim to improve the timing and dosing of fertiliser to better match crop needs and thereby reduce nitrogen losses, by serving as an information hub with state-of-the-art cyberinfrastructure to monitor the lifecycle and effects of nitrogen in agriculture-food-energy systems.  

Dame Ottoline Leyser, CEO UKRI, said: “UKRI’s Building a Green Future Programme aims to harness the power of research and innovation to tackle hard-to-decarbonise sectors in our economy. We are excited to be partnering with our sister organisations in the US, Canada, and Australia to accelerate progress toward this crucial goal. 

“Our combined investment in Global Centers enables exciting researcher and innovation-led international and interdisciplinary collaboration to drive the energy transition. I look forward to seeing the creative solutions developed through these global collaborations.”

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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