Engineering new solutions to the challenges of the future

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Pioneering new engineering approaches have the potential to unlock a wide range of benefits, from reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency to improving the production and efficacy of medicine and pharmaceuticals.

Three programme grants, supported with £18 million of funding by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will support the investigation, refinement and execution of new approaches that could have a wide-ranging impact.

The projects will bring together a wide range of academic and industry partners to share challenges, expertise, experiences, insights and data.

The heating and cooling of buildings and industrial processes currently accounts for more than one third of the UK's CO2 emissions and about half of overall energy demand. The LoT-NET project, led by the University of Warwick, will investigate how waste heat streams from industrial and other sources can be fed into low temperature heat networks and combined with heat pump and thermal storage technologies, in order to meet the heating and cooling needs of buildings and industrial processes. This project is being funded as part of the wider EPSRC investment in Energy demand and efficiency, led by the Centre for Research in Energy Demand Solutions.

In the IDLES project, researchers at Imperial College London will work with both established and new entrant industry partners to develop a whole-system view of energy, encompassing different energy sectors and the behaviour of both individuals and organisations to inform strategy on the long-term evolution of energy systems. They aim to do so by developing comprehensive models and machine learning approaches.

Multiphase flow, where systems use two or more phases such as particles in suspension, is used in a wide range of industrial processes such as food, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, but a barrier to greater efficiency is the complexity of this flow.

The Probing Multiscale Complex Multiphase Flows with Positrons for Engineering and Biomedical Applications project led by the University of Birmingham aims to enhance understanding of multiphase flow and address these challenges to benefit a wide range of industries.

Dr Andrew Lawrence, EPSRC's Head of Engineering, said: Through innovative new engineering approaches, complex physical processes can be harnessed and manipulated for the benefit of society.

These Programme Grants, announced in the Year of Engineering, will provide world-leading research groups with the resources and flexibility they require to investigate how these approaches can be used to impact on areas as diverse as energy production and use, food and medicine production and carbon emission reductions.

Summaries of the projects:

Probing Multiscale Complex Multiphase Flows with Positrons for Engineering and Biomedical Applications - EP/R045046/1

Led by: Professor Mostafa Barigou, University of Birmingham

Value: £5.8 million

Partners: King's College London, University of Edinburgh, AstraZeneca, Birmingham Children's Hospital NHS FT, Briggs of Burton PLC, Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharm Research UK, Campden BRI, City University of Hong Kong, GE Healthcare, Guys Kings and St Thomas, Imerys Minerals Ltd, Mondelez UK R&D Ltd, Siemens, Stanford University Medical School, Theragnostics Ltd, Unilever (UK), University of British Columbia, University of Cape Town, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Wisconsin Madison

Multiscale complex particle-liquid flows are vital to a wide range of industries including food, chemicals, consumer goods, construction, power generation and medicine. Despite this, a lack of fundamental understanding of the complex phenomena involved, such as the turbulence or viscosity of flows, or the shapes, densities and surface properties of particles, means that industrial practice and processes and clinical practice are not as efficient or optimal as they could be.

This multidisciplinary project will harness the universities' expertise in chemical engineering, physics, applied maths and biomedical engineering, as well as the University of Birmingham's Positron Imaging Centre. By using the technique of positron emission particle tracking, which relies on radiation that penetrates opaque materials, the researchers will aim to deliver a step change in our ability to model, analyse and predict these flows, facilitating far-reaching benefits in engineering and medicine.

Integrated Development of Low-Carbon Energy Systems (IDLES): A Whole-System Paradigm for Creating a National Strategy - EP/R045518/1

Led by: Professor Timothy Green, Imperial College London

Value: £6.9 million

Partners: EDF, National Grid, Shell, ABB

Achieving a whole-system view of energy, which incorporates not only multiple energy sectors (gas, heat, electricity and transport fuel) but the behaviours of individuals and organisations within energy-consuming sectors such as transport and the built environment, is highly desirable for both government and business but is also hugely challenging.

The project aims to address this challenge by utilising a series of different models which will provide an overview of energy systems in each sector from start to finish, both in terms of what technology is available but also the balance of cost versus efficiency. Machine learning approaches will be used so the model can adapt and taken in new information, such as consumer behaviour and responsiveness to government incentives. The researchers will work with four major partners and new, disruptive entrants in the energy sector to share insights, challenges, data and case studies.

Low Temperature Heat Recovery and Distribution Network Technologies (LoT-NET) - EP/R045496/1

Led by: Professor Robert Critoph, University of Warwick

Value: £5.3 million

Partners: Loughborough University, London South Bank University, University of Ulster

LoT-NET will investigate how waste heat streams from industrial and other sources feeding into low temperature heat networks can combine with heat pump and thermal storage technologies to meet the heating and cooling needs of UK buildings and industrial processes, which currently account for more than one third of the country's CO2 emissions and about half of overall energy demand.

Low Temperature heat networks combined with heat pumps can reuse heat that is currently wasted, reduce system losses through the operation of lower temperatures, and 'multiply' industrial high temperature wastage which can then be reused in a network. Through their use, the project aims to provide a cost-effective near-zero emissions solution for heating and cooling that realises the huge potential of waste heat and renewable energies by utilising a combination of a low-cost, low-loss flexible heat distribution network together with novel input, output and storage technologies.

Notes to Editors:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

EPSRC is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. By investing in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation.

Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future UK prosperity by contributing to a healthy, connected, resilient, productive nation.

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