Today’s announcement in the Chancellor’s spending review to fund the Energy Research Accelerator is a landmark move in the development of the Midlands engine for growth.
With funding directed towards heating and cooling through the Thermal Energy Research Accelerator (T-ERA), the government is beginning to take seriously the need to rethink this important strand of energy. Furthermore, the investment is important recognition both for the region and for UK energy research and business.
For the region this means a significant vote of confidence in the capability that the Midlands has in energy research and will spur growth in the region in terms of technology innovation and ultimately, jobs and export opportunity.
For the UK, the injection ensures the UK can continue to develop both leadership in thermal energy technology, but also to catalyse growth in a sector which is set to grow significantly over the coming years as countries wrestle with the challenges around demand for cooling and heating.
At the University of Birmingham we will take the lead in the Thermal Energy Accelerator (T-ERA) to drive the development and integration of a range of thermal (heating and cooling) energy technologies and the global cold economy.
The cold economy is intrinsic to our modern society, but often overlooked in the energy debate. We predict that investment in cold and cooling technology will create 10,000 jobs by 2025 and has the potential to unlock international markets worth in excess of £14 billion.
For the University, the funding will accelerate important research in thermal energy and helps us build on our leadership position in cryogenic energy storage and thermal systems. This will extend considerably the capability linked to the Birmingham Centre for Cyrogenic Energy Storage, the first UK research facility for energy storage using cryogenic liquids.
The University will be working with Birmingham City Council to ensure maximum impact for the City, ultimately through a series of energy technology demonstration facilities. In collaboration with the University of Loughborough and the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Birmingham will establish an Advanced Thermal Manufacturing Centre (ATMC) which will allow the productionisation of a range of thermal energy technologies. We will be working with range of our partners, including Dearman, to deliver innovative technologies to market, creating jobs and growth to the Midlands.
The investment will catalyse new research activity with partners such as Cofely, who are presently extending the district heat and cooling system in Birmingham around areas of thermal energy storage and exploitation of waste heat. The Birmingham District Energy Scheme is playing a pivotal role in Birmingham City Council’s climate change strategy, which aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2025.
Furthermore, the investment will build on the cyrogenic energy storage plant on campus to create a Birmingham Thermal Belt: a proposal to deliver a network of 25 bioprocessing plants, each consuming on average 20,000 tonnes/year of biogenic waste (dry matter) and residue, delivering as much as 600 GWh of combined green power and heat. This would create a grid around the city producing up to 60 tonnes of green hydrogen per day for use in transport, as well as substantial biochar - a charcoal used as a soil amendment - for fertilisation.
This is an exciting time for the region and the UK energy sector. The investment, of course, comes with the responsibility to deliver and it is essential that Birmingham continues to work closely with our industrial and business partners to ensure we maximise benefit for all. This is an exciting moment for collaborative energy research and development.