How UK and China research is helping to power the future

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Photo of electricity pylons reflected in water against a sunset sky


On the eve of the UK Innovation is GREAT showcase in Shanghai China, it is important to recognise the valuable research collaborations already established between scientists and engineers from UK and China.

In the fields of energy and low carbon innovation in particular, the Energy Programme has been working with partners to address challenges that face the UK, China and the rest of the world.

Over the last decade RCUK now UK Research and Innovation has invested over £33 million in joint UK-China energy research projects, most of which have been supported by matched resources from Chinese funders, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The collaborative efforts to support world-leading research that will, in turn, facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy, have included a number of calls.

The most recent investment is a £20 million three-year programme to support research to develop new low carbon manufacturing processes and technologies, low carbon cities and offshore renewables in the UK and China, agreed in March 2014.

Representatives from the NSFC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), as part of the Energy Programme, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at a meeting in London which was witnessed by the UK's Minister of State for Climate Change, Greg Barker.

Under the MoU, the UK and China each committed £10 million of matched resources over the following three years and with approximately £6.6 million available each year.

The agreement is part of a series of joint research programmes stretching back to 2007 that have already reaped rich rewards for both countries.

  • In 2008-2009, the initial UK-China energy calls were launched, in partnership with MoST; topics included renewable energy technologies and cleaner fossil fuels;
  • In 2009, RCUK now UK Research and Innovation funded four innovation-focused projects through the RCUK Science Bridges initiative. One of these collaborations was in the theme of sustainable energy and the built environment;
  • The  Energy Programme launched co-funded calls with both CAS and NSFC in 2010-2011: RCUK and NSFC invested £5.6 million in the first call, supporting research into carbon capture and storage technologies; the second call focused on solar cells, solar fuels and fuel cells, with £5 million investment from RCUK and CAS;
  • In 2012-2013, two further calls were run by RCUK and NSFC. The first was in smart grids; RCUK and NSFC investment totalled £6.6 million. The second call focused on the integration of smart grids and electric vehicles, with a total investment of £8.2 million;
  • In 2013-2014, RCUK and NSFC supported five joint projects in energy storage, with £10 million investment from the Energy Programme and NSFC.

The table below lists the calls and investments made:

Year Call No of projects supported Funding Joint funding agency in China
2008 Renewable energy technologies 8 £6.6m MoST
2009 Cleaner fossil fuels 5 £4.5m MoST
2009 Science Bridges; sustainable energy and built environment 1 £0.9m MoST
2010 Solar cells, solar fuels and fuel cells 5 £2.5m CAS
2010 Carbon Capture and Storage 5 £2.8m NSFC
2012 Smart Grids 4 £3.3m NSFC
2012 Smart Grids and Electric Vehicles 4 £4.1m NSFC
2013 Grid Scale Storage 5 £5.0m NSFC
2014 Marine energy feasibility studies 11 £1.2m MoST
2015 Low carbon Cities 4 £3.0m NSFC
2016 Offshore renewable energy technologies (under negotiation) TBC TBC NSFC

Professor Tom Rodden, EPSRC's Deputy Chief Executive, who is in China to address attendees at the Powering the Future workshop, held in association with the Pujiang Forum 2016, said: Collaboration between scientists and engineers is vital if the world is to find solutions to the challenges we all face. Working together the UK and China can improve the lives of their citizens and people across the globe, helping to meet their economic need while reducing the burden we place on the environment.

Reference: PN 51-16