Current thinking suggests that for mankind to maintain the present standard of living, we are going to have to innovate our way through the current climate change problems.
The UK has a long history of leading innovation and we should be proud of that history. Climate change is forcing us to reconsider how we operate and how we live our lives and the deadline for action is fast approaching. There is a precedent however; 70 years ago our pilots navigated by a combination of sight and Morse code. Within a few years of the outbreak of World War II however, radar had been established.
The Low Carbon Innovation Centre (LCIC) has, as the name suggests, low carbon and innovation as its two chief objectives. Based at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and affiliated to that institution?s globally renowned School of Environmental Sciences, we are fortunate to have access to the latest research from some of the world?s finest scientists.
As such, it was fitting that Carbon Connections was established here in October 2006. With a £5 million budget from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Carbon Connections? brief was to seek out and nurture innovation from the UK?s Higher Education sector and push it towards market by encouraging partnerships with British industry. At the end of the programme in March 2009 there stood a portfolio of 26 innovative low-carbon projects, some of which are already producing returns.
One of the most innovative, DeltaStream, is the world?s first free-standing tidal energy harnessing device. Tidal energy, unlike wind and solar, is constant and predictable and, furthermore, in the UK, we have lots of it. Each DeltaStream energy device has a nominal maximum 1.2MW at 6 knots producing roughly 6-7m kWh over its 20-year lifespan. That it is not fixed to the seabed reduces environmental damage and also allows for speedy installation and maintenance. Payback time is estimated to be just six months.
Another Carbon Connections project, Biofuels for Heating, seeks the optimum biofuel blend to power domestic and commercial heating. Carbon Connections helped establish a complete supply chain, which included representation from the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) and participation from Norfolk County Council, who provided commercial premises for tests. Trials with used cooking oil have taken place and while it is unlikely that all 1.2 million UK homes and numerous commercial sites that are heated by oil-fired burner can be supplied through this medium, trials continue using agricultural waste.
Carbon Connections also took a strong interest in innovative construction methods. Some of the projects are self-explanatory ? agri-fibre insulation, fibre mortar (building blocks made from recycled paper) and Bale- Haus (pre-fabricated straw bale panels) to name a few. Recognising that technology alone cannot rescue us, Carbon Connections ring fenced 10% of the funds for behaviour- change projects. In Lingwood, Norfolk, a series of low-carbon, affordable houses have been constructed utilising photovoltaic panels, ground-source heat pumps and solar rooms. Carbon Connections monitored the residents? behaviour assessing how future tenants might adapt. After all, there?s no point having a temperaturecontrolled house if you simply open a window when it gets warm.
These construction-related projects have led to LCIC taking an advisory role in two eco-developments at Dunsfold Park, Surrey and Rackheath, Norfolk. Other behaviour-change projects include a liftshare operation to reduce commuter car journeys, a set of toys to encourage children to make energy-saving changes at home (and, it is hoped, to encourage the adults to join in) and a driving simulator to encourage fuel-efficient road use.
In October 2008, all of the University of East Anglia?s low-carbon activities, including Carbon Connections and CRed, the Carbon Reduction Programme established in 2003, were brought together under the auspices of the Low Carbon Innovation Centre. The success of the Carbon Connections programme has led to LCIC being granted the role of Fund Operator for the multi-million pound, European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)- supported regional low-carbon venture capital fund. This venture capital equity investment fund will target investments in SMEs in the low-carbon field within the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) region. The total project size is expected to be in the region of £20 million, comprised of £8million from ERDF with additional funds being sought from other VC sources. The fund will be available for applications in early 2010.
LCIC has also contributed to the construction of a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) biomass gasifier on the UEA campus. The plant, due to open in late 2009, will run on biomass consisting of woodchip from locally sourced, sustainable forestry and will have the benefit of reducing the university?s carbon emissions by a third (more than 8,000 tonnes) and per capita emissions by over 70% on 1990 levels. It is one of the greenest, most energy-efficient power plants in the country.
The plant has an electricity output of 1.4MW generated by a large piston driving an alternator and also produces 2.0MW of heat, which is normally wasted in conventional power stations, giving an overall efficiency rating, independently verified, of 86%. Payback time is predicted to be around seven years. After this time, the plant will generate revenue as well as power for the University. The plant will also generate a by-product of 200-300 tonnes of biochar each year. Biochar is currently being discussed as a significant opportunity for carbon reduction and the LCIC is fortunate to have, in Dr Zoe Wallage, one of the few UK authorities on the subject.
Biochar is a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soil retain nutrients and water. It can be an important tool to increase food production as well as locking carbon away in the soil as biochar remains stable for millennia, unlike compost, which releases its carbon over the course of a few years. LCIC is soon to start agricultural trials of the material.
Since 2003, CRed has helped the general public save over 60,000 tonnes of CO² emissions through its pledge system. LCIC has just released an updated online version of the system which enables large organisations and local authorities to engage their workforce or communities in carbon-reduction activities and efficiently record and report on the results. The CRed System is the most robust software of its kind.
Innovation is alive and well in the UK but sometimes needs a nudge to send it in the right direction. The LCIC?s experience of nurturing innovation puts us in an excellent position to see into the future. There are difficult times ahead but we are confident that we can meet these challenges head on.
For more information, please contact:
Low Carbon Innovation Centre
Tel: 01603 591358
Added the 04 October 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-2