Tackling the most urgent energy challenges: How the Energy Institute is helping to deliver a greener future

Faced with the significant challenge of changing our energy system to fight the impacts of climate change, research, testing and expert collaborations become even more important as a pathway to finding solutions.

electricity power poles in a line against a sunset

 At the Energy Institute at the University of Sheffield, our aim is to find solutions to every part of the challenge: engineering solutions, scientific breakthroughs, societal understanding and making sure all of these have a real-life impact on the world around us. 

The Institute is home to more than 300 of the best minds in energy research from around the world working across faculties, departments and research centres. We work across all levels of energy research, from laboratory studies to commercially viable solutions.The visionary team at the Energy Institute has built a reputation for world-class research, sought after by governments and industry.

Last week (Thursday 30 March), the UK government made several announcements about its plans to ensure energy supply security, and work towards the net zero goals of the UK. 

These included the creation of Great British Nuclear, a new independent body to oversee nuclear generation; a list of the first government-backed renewable hydrogen projects; a target for the UK to host 70GW of solar by 2035; a commitment to invest in Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) and an official launch for bids for a share of £381m of funding under the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Fund (LEVI). The Department for Transport (DfT) has also opened consultations on a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate to support its 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. 

To meet these aims, much will need to be done, both in developing technology and building the societal, economic and civil infrastructures needed to make a greener energy future a reality. The Energy Institute is working towards many of these aims, thanks to research carried out by our academics and research facilities. 

One of the announcements made by the government was to select the University of Sheffield’s Sustainable Aviation Fuels Innovation Centre (SAF-IC) as the UK’s SAF Clearing House - a central hub to coordinate the testing and certification of new sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). 

At SAF-IC’s sister centre, the Translational Energy Research Centre (TERC), work is underway to test next-generation carbon capture technology, which will help to make CCUS technology more feasible for industry partners. Work is also going on to understand and develop CCUS technologies in the Flue2Chem project, which aims to enable the use of waste gases from foundation industries such as the production of metals, glass, paper and chemicals to generate an alternative source of carbon for UK consumer product production.  

With the creation of Great British Nuclear, more will need to be understood about the realities of living alongside nuclear energy, including how to store nuclear waste. This is one of the key topics being researched by academics in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science & Engineering. We are also proud to have recently announced a partnership with UKAEA to drive fusion technology

One key area of announcements from the UK government concerned renewable hydrogen projects. Read all about our hydrogen research here, including the equipment for pilot-scale testing at TERC and the research into the feasibility of hydrogen supply chains. 

We also have strong research capabilities in other areas involved in the announcement, including the world-leading Sheffield Solar and some exciting advancements in electric vehicles in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering. 

Speaking about the announcement, Professor Lenny Koh, co-Head of Energy Institute, said: “Amongst the energy mix required to ensure energy supply security which has been recognised by the UK Government, CCUS and nuclear are at the centre of this UK new net zero strategy. Government has recognised the key role of CCUS and nuclear in the decarbonisation pathway to achieve net zero, where the UK has strong capabilities including in their supply chains.

“Resource and energy efficiency have been captured where a systems approach for the connections with the grid with integrated energy solutions are essential, where stability and resilience of energy infrastructure must be designed into the system.

“This strategy links climate risk and energy independence together, whilst taking economic, environmental and social sustainability into consideration in the energy systems and supply chains when investments and policies are made, a very welcome approach.”

On the topic of the SAF Clearing House, co-Head of the Energy Institute Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian said: “We're thrilled to be able to announce the selection of the Energy Institute at the University of Sheffield as the home of the UK SAF Clearing House. This significant and much-needed addition to the UK's decarbonisation landscape will help to reduce barriers to SAF delivery, and will take a vital step on the journey to make SAFs a viable solution for the future of aviation. 

"With our world-class sustainable aviation fuels research and testing facilities at the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Innovation Centre, as well as the significant amount of sustainable power to liquid capabilities at the neighbouring Translational Energy Research Centre and the expertise within the Energy Institute, we are ideally placed to drive forward the much-needed development, testing and delivery of SAFs."

He added: "This news follows the recent announcement that we're taking part in the first net-zero transatlantic flight, a project with Virgin, and our partnership with Boeing. These projects, in combination with our cutting-edge equipment and international, regional and local connections, puts the Energy Institute at the University of Sheffield at the centre of the emerging sustainable aerospace sector."

“The UK SAF Clearing House, in partnership with Ricardo, is a major boost in connecting industrial capabilities with academic expertise, which will create the opportunity to make sustainable flight a reality, all on the path to a cleaner, decarbonised future.”

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