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£11,000,000 green energy centre to open in the North East

An £11m renewable energy centre is to open in the North East.


It means that the UK’s next generation of doctoral researchers in the field will train in the region.


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has awarded £5.2 million to Northumbria, Newcastle and Durham universities to open the new Centre for Doctoral Training in Renewable Energy Northeast Universities, which will be known as ReNU.


Industry partners have contributed further, taking the total project value to approximately £11 million.


It will train 65 PhD students across the three universities over the next five years.


Although there has been a strong growth in the renewable energy sector in recent years, the next revolution within the energy sector will be in providing sustainable power sources for what is known as “distributed devices”.


It is estimated that more than 40 billion smart and interconnected devices, such as smartphones, tablets and Fitbits will be in use by 2024, all of which will need to be charged frequently.


Further massive growth is expected in new devices, such new forms of unmanned electric transportation and medical technologies that can monitor and treat patients at home rather than in hospital. This makes it vital that renewable energy sources are used to charge and power them.


Researchers at ReNU will be working to create and develop new materials and devices that will convert energy into power at the point of use.


This could include automatically recharging the devices without the need to plug them in to be recharged every night. Their goal is to develop new materials that can be mass-produced, making them sustainable and inexpensive to use.


One example is work being undertaken by Dr Neil Beattie, who is leading the ReNU centre at Northumbria University. He is currently investigating how to produce a specialist form of paint that could be sprayed on to cars or rooftops to generate solar energy at any location.


He said: “Global demand for electricity is constantly increasing and as a result, we need to find new, innovative ways to power our devices and vehicles using renewable and distributed energy technologies.


“Imagine a world in which there are billions of interconnected mobile devices – and a world with new modes of transportation, such as unmanned electric aerotaxis. Now imagine the challenge of providing power to these devices. It quickly becomes unmanageable. We need to find new ways to efficiently convert and store energy at the point of use.”


As well as receiving expert guidance from academics at Northumbria, Newcastle and Durham universities, PhD students will also receive enhanced training to develop their business and innovation skills. The four-year course includes an in-built mini-MBA qualification, intellectual property training and a two-week placement in China studying renewable energy at a leading academic institution.


Dr Libby Gibson will be leading ReNU at Newcastle University. Her work focuses on “artificial photosynthesis”, which uses the energy from sunlight to generate fuel from water and carbon dioxide.


She said: “The energy landscape is evolving rapidly as we discover more sustainable and versatile ways to power our devices and vehicles. We’re excited to bring together expertise from across the science and engineering disciplines to work together both to tackle the challenges at this research frontier, and also to equip our doctoral candidates with the breadth of skills required to tackle the changing needs of the industry in the future.


“This region has a strong heritage for innovation in energy and we’re delighted to play a part in its continuation.”


Dr Chris Groves, who will be leading ReNU at Durham University, undertakes research to understand how the movement of electrical current on the nano-scale influences the performance of solar cells. He said: “De-carbonisation of energy is one of the most fundamental challenges facing our society. Huge changes in how we generate, transport, store and use energy are needed to meet the expectations of the Paris agreement.


Originally published in the Journal.