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ICURe Sprint: Energy & Environmental Technologies

Project summaries

Six exciting and commercially-promising research projects were selected to participate in the inaugural ICURe Sprint cohort.


Early Careers Researcher: Alex Mavromatis, University of Bristol

Over the last decade, we have seen many start-ups and big companies focusing on AI not only as a passive data engineering tool but as a service in the field. Both markets of IoT and AI are growing and new applications and products are being developed every day. Despite this focus, there are still challenges to be addressed, especially when it comes to real-time systems. There is an enormous amount of devices today that are based on different hardware architecture, use diverse wireless protocols and require proprietary software and configuration. AI is increasing the above complexity as it requires computing, and data modelling from many different sources. We believe that the complexity of multiple increasing data sources (devices, synthetic devices) and management data for AI is an increasing problem that will deteriorate exponentially in function with the adoption of AI. Our solutions aim to focus on solving the above challenge with a platform that enables heterogeneity for data sources, streaming of noise-filtered data to AI model engineering or AutoML. The platform could connect, collect, clean, organise and journal data from any hardware device directly to one or many models in the cloud or private hosted AI platforms. Providing such a streamlining solution for end-to-end real-time AI-IoT setups could have several applications where data sources are foreign to the end-user. Use cases we tested to date are the insurance industry and logistics port community systems.


Early Careers Researcher: Andrew Fraser-Harris, University of Edinburgh

SEAWARM harnesses the vast thermal resource of the sea to provide local low cost, reliable, sustainable, low carbon heat and cooling in near coastal regions. It combines established and proven renewable technologies with additional IP to provide the cheapest form of heating available. This market is potentially extremely large both in the UK and internationally, particularly in terms of cooling in hotter climates. Dimensioning indicates that cooling the average sized domestic septic tank by ~3°C over 12 – 24 hours is sufficient to supply the heat demand. SEAWARM requires low investment costs, which could be supported by a program such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme in the UK that reduces the upfront cost of installation for the consumer and would be cheaper to run than other competing technologies, thus providing a consistent, truly sustainable, and reliable heating/cooling solution.

Smart Power and Energy Management

Early Careers Researcher: Huilian Liao, Sheffield Hallam University

Idea: Optimal Flexibility Resource Management (OFRM) – Generating Optimal Flexibility Exchange Strategies to Enable High Renewable, Net Zero Electrical Systems and Energy Cost Reduction.

Aims: maximizing the renewable energy generation in the electrical systems and enabling the transition of electrical systems towards Net Zero; reducing energy cost; ensuring stable and secure power supply.

Methods: The OFRM utilises the significantly increased flexibility resources (including solar PV, wind turbines, electric vehicles etc.) which will become widely spread across the electricity networks in the near future. These flexibility resources are power electronic interfaced components and have high controllability. Being abundant and controllable, these flexibility resources can be used by network operators (or energy management systems) to achieve the aims mentioned above through proper management and utilization. In OFRM, to achieve the aims, the flexibility resources are optimally managed via two stages: scheduling in time domain and the operation/dispatching in spatial domains. This OFRM will allow the utilisation of flexibility resources to their full advantages and achieve high renewable, Net Zero electrical networks (and/or reduce energy cost) while ensuring the stable and secure power supply. This approach was successfully used to generate flexibility exchange strategies for operating electricity networks with high integration of renewable energy generation.


Early Careers Researcher: Qi Zhang, University of Surrey

Global warming caused by the accumulation of atmospheric CO2 is considered as one of the greatest environmental threats. According to the CDP report, oil, gas & coal enterprises, such as Shell, BP, have been identified as the companies with the highest level of emission. Dry reforming of methane (DRM) is a method of converting CO2 and CH4 into synthesis gas (syngas), the products can be used in the industry as reactant to form liquid fuels and valuable chemicals. This method has been studied since 1888 but it has been scarcely implemented on industrial level due to the lack of suitable catalysts.

Our novel idea is to bring low cost, highly selective and stable powder-based catalysts for DRM to the market, which aim to solve the economic hurdles holding back the potential of this game changing technology:

1) High activity and selectivity: It shows excellent activity (CO2 conversion higher than 80%) and high CO&H2 selectivity for DRM at low operating temperatures.

2) High resistance to deactivation and sintering: It displays great lab scale stability (more than 360h) in the continuous operation taking the edge over any current catalytic technology in the corresponding field. Due to the high activity and stability, our catalysts can participate in the reaction for longer, reducing maintenance costs and increasing efficiency. In addition, our catalysts can be readily produced and implemented into current manufacturing facilities, thus lowering the production and investment cost.

Full-Stop Braking

Early Careers Researcher: Samuel Erland, University of Exeter

The rise of the global electric vehicle (EV) market has led to a major upheaval in the braking sector due to the use of regenerative braking systems which reduce the use of foundation brakes by 95%. This was expected to end the routine replacement of brake pads, however, experience on vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt, Kia Soul and Toyota Prius has shown that, while the friction material can last up to 100k miles, brake pads must be replaced in as little 7.5k miles due to corrosion of the steel backing plate debonding the friction material. This is because brakes are no longer used often enough to prevent excessive moisture build up. In addition, the corrosion itself is a key component of non-exhaust emissions, an area soon to be heavily legislated against in the upcoming Euro 7 standards.

Exeter researchers have found a highly effective solution to this problem in the form of carbon fibre/phenolic composite backing plates (CBPs), that match the performance of steel plates, are 70% lighter, are immune to corrosion issues and will therefore perform as a lifetime item, thereby saving resources, cutting waste and emissions whilst improving vehicle range. This solution uses a unique combination of materials and a specialised surface treatment that allows optimised bonding of the new plates to the friction material. Brake pads using our technology have passed all industry standard and internal qualifications and are ready to make their presence felt in the $8.2bn brake pad market.


Early Careers Researcher: Sarah Bunney, University of Exeter

OurRainwater is an innovative web portal to encourage the widespread adoption of rainwater harvesting to reduce stormwater overflows. Water and Sewerage companies have received a great deal of negative press regarding the spillage of combined sewer overflows into local watercourses. However, the positive contribution that households and businesses can make by disconnecting THEIR rainwater from the sewer is of often neglected. Water companies have tried to engage with customers to encourage the uptake of these schemes. However, these approaches have been unsuccessful due to a lack of public understanding regarding the benefits, distrust of water company motivations and a lack of financial incentives.

Building on the concept ‘when it rains, it’s yours’, OurRainwater is a web portal which customers can access to find out how they can reduce the amount of rainwater travelling into the sewer network. Working in collaboration with water companies, OurRainwater is a data management portal. Customers select their property, calculate their roof area, select the appropriate solution and order equipment. The relevant water company will approve the equipment request and pay OurRainwater for the service. The equipment will be ordered and delivered to the customer for installation by a partner organisation. Once installed the customer will be able to upload a photograph of the installation to the OurRainwater portal and receive a financial reward from the water company.


If you are interested in any of the projects above, please contact [email protected] or reach out to the Early Careers Researcher directly.

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