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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

British Science Festival 2015: Can we secure our energy future?

Most of the Durham team at BSF 2015

An event organised by Durham Energy Institute, Durham University for the British Science Festival 2015


The UK is facing an energy crisis. How we can ensure we have secure, sustainable and affordable energy supplies whilst also reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Durham University energy experts discuss the challenges and scientific innovations driving our energy future.

The event at the British Science Festival 2015 considered the pressing challenges and questions about the nation's future energy supply and asked: Are we facing a dark and cold future or do we have viable options for securing our energy future?

The international energy system is in flux and UK energy supply is becoming less secure. We now import much of our oil and gas after decades of self sufficiency and we have but 14 days of gas storage. We also import 90% of the coal we use and our nuclear facilities are reaching the ends of their lives. Sure we have plenty of new wind farms and solar panels are popping up on some buildings but renewables still only make a small dent in the UK's total energy usage. The UK's energy supply is vulnerable, increasingly out of our control with a significant portion of our energy imports being supplied from countries which may be politically unstable.

So, what new energy solutions are being developed to meet these challenges and ensure we can keep the lights on? What mix of energy technologies might allow us to meet society's huge demands for power economically and without the danger of losing supply while being mindful of emissions targets?

Theevent showcased some of the innovative research being undertaken at Durham University by the new generation of energy researchers who are working towards answering the global energy challenges we face today and into the future. DEI team from Earth Sciences, Physics, and Engineering departments discussed the potential of Nuclear Fusion, Geothermal energy, Organic Solar devices, and alternative approaches to oil and gas such as Enhanced Oil Recovery and Carbon Capture and storage in offshore oil wells.

  • Do they work for the UK?
  • Will they give us the energy we need, reliably, into the future?
  • Will they help to achieve our low-carbon ambitions?
  • Will they keep our lights on?

The event, which attracted a large audience of over 60 people, inspired a lively discussion and was very well received.


Dr Charlotte Adams – Geothermal Energy

Charlotte Adams is the Research Manager for the BritGeothermal research partnership and is based in the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University. Her research focuses on geothermal energy - a carbon neutral, home-sourced, sustainable and reliable source of heat and power which can help the UK become more self-sufficient with respect to energy. Charlotte’s research interests include the generation of heat and power from low to medium grade deep geothermal resources; the integration of micro-generation systems into buildings, electric vehicles; energy efficiency and sustainability of historic buildings; and the removal of metals (both contaminating and economic) from waste waters.

Professor Andy Aplin - How secure is the UK energy mix?

Director of Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems (CeREES) the founding center of the Durham Energy Institute. Andy is a petroleum geoscientist who aims to apply high quality science to help answer industrially and societally important questions. After PhD and postdoctoral research in marine and isotope geochemistry, he spent several years with BP and many at Newcastle University, before joining Durham University in 2013. With students and RAs, I have worked on problems connected to seals for petroleum reservoirs and CO2 storage sites, leakage, gas shales, and pore pressure estimation.


Mark Brodie – Oil and gas

Mark is principally a petroleum geologist with an interest in unconventional sandstone reservoirs. After completing his undergraduate studies, Mark worked as wellsite geologist in unconventional onshore gas in Australia. He saw first-hand how scientific research was put into practice to improve hydrocarbon recoveries. In 2013 Mark returned to academia to pursue his interest in petroleum research. He now works at Durham University, where he is studying for a PhD sponsored by Statoil. His research is primarily focussed on the unconventional Bakken formation of the Williston Basin, USA. Mark seeks to understand how changes in the chemistry of rocks during their formation effects porosity. Research in this area will hopefully lead to higher oil recoveries and improved efficiency in oil extraction.

Matthew Jones – Solar energy

Matthew undertakes research on organic photovoltaic devices (OPVs), an attractive new alternative to conventional solar panel technologies due to their comparatively cheap and simple manufacturing processes. They are, however, currently less efficient than the solar cells we use today, and so it is important for researchers to understand exactly how they work so that they can produce as much electricity as possible. Matthew develops computer models of OPVs to determine which characteristics result in the best performance in solar panels. The final goal is to produce a virtual photovoltaic that allows us to simulate all of the important physics required to turn solar energy into electricity, with the aim of producing more efficient and economically viable solar panels than the inorganic solar panels which are currently publicly available.

Francis Ridgeon – Nuclear fusion energy

Francis Ridgeon, is a PhD student in Physics at Durham University and a member of Durham’s Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy. His research aims to contribute towards developing a new generation of superconducting magnet for nuclear fusion. With new superconducting materials, and a better understanding of the effect of architecture on conductor’s stability and properties, an improved magnet design could be implemented in future generations of nuclear fusion reactors. This research aims to make nuclear fusion a realistic option for the future energy mix of the UK.

We want to talk energy!