EPSRC to implement Supergen changes that will build on world-leading research programme

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The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is set to implement changes designed to build on and improve the world-leading research done through the Supergen programme following an independent review.

The 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.

An independent review of the programme was conducted from 30 August to 1 September 2016 by an independent panel drawn from across the fields covered by Supergen.

The panel made a series of recommendations, which EPSRC has responded to in the form of an implementation plan:

  • The Supergen programme needs more resource for the core elements of hubs, enabling their Principal Investigators or Directors to act as strategic leaders for the whole field – EPSRC has increased and concentrated the funding. Leaders, in consultation with the research and stakeholder community, will decide how to divide funding and what areas of research to focus on.
  • The initiation of a resourced communication plan to strengthen outreach and communications – All new hubs will have a hub manager to coordinate communications and outreach, and will be able to outsource to find staff with the appropriate skills.
  • Hubs should adopt a whole energy systems approach to understand the potential opportunities of their technology and understand how it affects the system – All new hubs must think about their work in the context of the whole system and with the Government’s emerging Industrial Strategy in mind, and can use support from existing UK Research and Innovation investments, such as UKERC, in this area.
  • More collaboration is required across hubs in cross-cutting areas, and particularly through the incorporation of the research areas of decarbonising heating and low emission transport to rationalise current research activities – A central pot of flexible funding will be introduced for cross-hub challenges. The potential incorporation of the research areas of decarbonising heating and low emission transport will be considered in the next tranche of funding, due in 2018/19 following insights from the research community.
  • Clustering hubs under aligned areas where synergies in technology exist should be considered; it would allow shared skills, transferable fundamental knowledge and learning about similar problems to be shared – The Wind and Marine hubs will be replaced by one Offshore Renewable Energy hub, following consultation with the community. This will offer an opportunity for the new hub to look at synergies between wind, wave and tidal technologies as well as building on current research in each area.
  • An equality and diversity (E&D) strategy should be embedded at the level of the Supergen programme to support early career researchers and improve the balance of protected characteristics (such as age, disability, gender and ethnic background), across the research communities – EPSRC wants the Supergen programme to be a beacon for E&D and early career research support. Terms and conditions will be introduced to reflect the UK Research and Innovation E&D plan and EPSRC’s work in this area.

EPSRC will launch a call to identify the leaders of Supergen programme hubs. Leaders will be provided with six months’ funding to build consortia, plan community-led programmes of research and prepare a full application for a second stage. Further consultation events will take place later this year.

EPSRC’s Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson, said: “Since its inception, the Supergen programme has had an international impact in this immensely important field, fostered by collaboration between academics at the UK’s universities and the research councils.

“It is important to seek the views of the research community so the programme can continue to prosper, and be improved further. The implementation plan put forward following the independent review panel’s recommendations will lead to further collaboration and sharing of knowledge and skills, and will build on and add to the world-leading research already being conducted.

“The Supergen programme is clearly aligned with the Government’s emerging Industrial Strategy through a continuing investment in science, research and innovation, the development of skills, and the programme’s potential to deliver affordable energy and clean growth.”

PN 04-17