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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute


Durham part of Northern partnership to tackle transport emissions

(24 May 2019)

© Peter McDermott

A new research network of northern universities, including Durham, has been set-up to find ways to rapidly decarbonise UK transport.

The DecarboN8 network will focus on tackling surface transport emissions, which form 26 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. These include emissions from cars, vans, buses, heavy goods vehicles and trains. They will also examine emissions from the construction and maintenance of these vehicles, and infrastructure.

The network, worth £1.25m and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will be led by University of Leeds and be comprised of experts from the N8 Research Partnership, a collaboration of the eight most research intensive universities in the North of England including Durham; as well as experts from Government and industry.

Transport decarbonisation

Tackling the decarbonisation of transport is complex, partly because different places – from rural environments to stand-alone towns to dense urban areas – require different approaches.

The North is an ideal area for this research as it has a wide range of areas, socio-economic circumstances and travel patterns.

The project will look specifically at how different places could be rapidly switched to electric vehicle use for personal travel, and how different decarbonisation strategies needed for cars and heavy vehicles can interact with each other.

Durham Energy Institute researchers Dr Hongjian Sun and Professor Tooraj Jamasb will lead on Durham’s engagement in the network. Dr Sun, Durham University’s lead on Smart Energy Solutions, will lead research on smart grid technologies that can support the growth in low-carbon vehicles and their integration into the UK electricity grid.

Dr Hongjian Sun, in Durham’s Department of Engineering, said:

“Decarbonising transport is not as easy as electrifying all vehicles. Electrified vehicles will be reliant on the UK 'mains' electricity, but as of 2018 50 per cent of UK electricity is still generated from gas and coal power stations. It is still not clear what the best options are for using renewable energy sources to power vehicles. Can vehicles be charged just when the wind blows? DecarboN8 project provides an exciting opportunity for leading experts to work together for exploiting effective solutions of grid-vehicle integration and optimisation.”

Zero carbon emissions

Professor Greg Marsden from the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds will be leading the project. He said: “The challenge of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050 as outlined in the latest report from the Committee on Climate Change represents a huge technological, engineering, policy and societal challenge for the next 30 years.

“A key element of the work of DecarboN8 will be to demonstrate how 'place' is important to researching the decarbonisation challenge. This will open up a new branch of decarbonisation science across the transport and energy sector that will be of real significance to other regions in the UK and globally.

“A focus on place is also essential to consider the connection to local energy resources that may play a part in emission reduction, for example the availability of clean hydrogen which could power trains or ambulances.”

Senior evidence and analysis officer for Transport for the North Lucy Humphreys said: “Transport for the North is delighted to be involved in the Decarbon8 network. We believe the network could offer a step-change in how we approach the decarbonisation challenge across the North, the UK and beyond. 

“Working across the North to understand the role of scale, collaborative potential and the need for diversity in the transition is particularly importantly for TfN. We are keen to identify the carbon implications of TfN’s policies and be forward thinking in our approach to mitigate increasing transport demand against the environmental and health benefits rapid decarbonisation would mean for residents across the North.”

Dr Nick Goldspink, Research Partnership Manager at the N8 Research Partnership, said “This is a fantastic opportunity to bring the critical mass of research excellence that exists in the N8 universities together with a developing devolved policy landscape to deliver real benefits for the region and more widely.”

Fuel cells and social acceptance

The project will also include research into future transport fuels, including the potential for electricity, hydrogen and fuel cells to meet future transport demand.

Another key area will be research into societal acceptance and societal readiness of different technologies and approaches, ensuring that is considered from the start of the research to ensure solutions are designed with the realities of people’s lives in mind.

Connected Places Catapult is a key partner in the research network and will lead events to bring together industrial and local and national government partners engaged in decarbonisation in the North of England.


Further information:

The N8 Research Partnership is a collaboration of the eight most research intensive Universities in the North of England: Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York.

Durham University Smart Grid Laboratory research covers a wide variety of research topics including mathematical modelling and statistics, power systems optimisation and control, ICT-power system integration and demand side management.

Durham Energy Institute has undertaken a variety of projects and collaborations centred around smart grids with a range of partners including EDF, EON, Scottish Power, ABB, PB Power, AREVA, Northern Powergrid.