The drive for green energy is seeking quick results

A £1.1bn fund to develop low-carbon technology wants to make an impact. Zoe Corbyn reports

April 3, 2008

Offshore wind turbines and engines that run on biofuels are just two areas of research into green energy where the Government and industry plan to spend up to £1.1 billion over the next ten years.

Academics who are prepared to work with industry on getting projects out of the laboratory and into demonstration can benefit.

The funding is through the new Energy Technologies Institute, which was launched in December. The ETI is an equal partnership between the public and the private sectors to fund applied-energy technology projects (nuclear power excluded) aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making our energy supplies cheaper and more secure.

The institute, which the Government first mooted in 2006, takes the form of a "limited liability partnership" (a company in which the Government has a 50 per cent share). It aims to accelerate the commercial deployment of low-carbon energy technologies and services to help meet climate change goals.

"The emphasis is on technology demonstration at a system level," said David Clarke, the ETI's chief executive. "It is necessary to integrate a much more diverse range of technologies, including some that aren't conventional and are still in the lab."

So far, six companies (EDF Energy, Shell, BP, E.ON UK, Caterpillar and Rolls-Royce) have signed up; they are partnered by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Transport. The institute's administrative headquarters are based at the University of Loughborough, which bid as part of a consortium with the universities of Birmingham and Nottingham.

The budget is not fixed. "We expect it to rise as new industrial members join," Dr Clarke said. At the moment, it stands at £60 million a year, with each of the six industrial partners committing £5 million (£30 million in total) matched by £30 million from the departments. However, the Government has said it is willing to match up to £55 million a year. Under the arrangement, the budget could rise to £110 million a year, or £1.1 billion over its ten-year lifetime.

The lion's share of the Government's contribution (more than 90 per cent) comes from DIUS - with 60 per cent of that from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and 40 per cent from the Technology Strategy Board.

"We have not specified the proportion of funding that will go specifically to academics, but clearly there is a big part to play for the academic community in delivering the ETI's goals," Dr Clarke said.

The typical pattern for funding will be for the ETI to issue expressions of interest (EoIs) in various areas. Selected businesses and academic groups will then be invited to take part in workshops aimed at developing specific projects and consortia to bid for the funding.

"In the workshops, we are trying to make sure we don't just have the usual players in the room. We want to bring in a diverse range of groups - both companies and academics - some of which have never worked in the energy sector before but who have experience of other areas that could be applied," Dr Clarke said.

Thus far, the ETI has launched two calls for EoIs: one is in offshore wind technology (worth up to £40 million and issued jointly with the Carbon Trust), the other in marine, wave and tidal technology (worth between £20 million and £30 million). Of around 125 EoIs received for each about one third of respondents have been invited to forthcoming workshops.

Dr Clarke expects that two to three projects will eventually be funded in each area. "Higher funding levels of £5 million to £25 million per project will be routine," he said, adding that the next call, for "distributed energy systems", should be made in the next few months and should be funded at about the same level as the first two.

Dr Clarke said: "The big issues are low-cost and high-efficiency (electricity) generation and heat-management systems that take us into the areas of combined heat and power and small-scale generation."

Other areas being developed for funding include carbon capture and storage, transport technologies, electrical networks and energy use in buildings.

Dr Clarke said that academics could use their involvement to help them home in on the next major research challenges. "A project improving the reliability of offshore wind turbines will probably result in building demonstrators based on today's best available science and technology ... but through building those and operating them we will start to understand what the real next-generation challenge is."

His tip for interested academics was to recognise that the industrial agenda valued speed. "We need to start projects quickly and we need to deliver them quickly," he said.


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