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Durham University

Research & business


Multi-million pound boost to help improve energy technology

(8 November 2017)

A newly announced research centre will see Durham University join forces with two of North East England's other universities to help improve energy technology at an atomic level. 

The North East Centre for Energy Materials (NECEM) is a new partnership between Durham, Newcastle and Northumbria universities with £2.25m funding from the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

Interdisciplinary expertise

The new centre will bring together engineers, chemists, biologists and physicists to develop high performance materials to improve efficiency in energy generation, storage and transmission whilst further enhancing the region’s expertise in tackling the energy challenge.

The Durham Energy Institute, part of Durham University, will contribute particularly in the areas of solar energy, simulation, and the advanced analytical tools needed to observe how materials behave at a molecular level.

Professor Jon Gluyas, Executive Director of the Durham Energy Institute said: “The new research centre is an exciting opportunity to examine how, at the micro level, materials and interfaces can be designed to address the bigger energy challenges facing our world.

“The Durham Energy Institute is excited to be a part of the NECEM and to bring our multidisciplinary expertise together in partnership with others from across the North East of England to help address a fundamental global challenge.”

As well as Durham’s expertise, the new centre brings together skills in tidal and wave energy, solar, batteries, energy storage, biomass and ‘smart grids’ that are able to manage power simultaneously from these different sources.

Exploring the big challenges in our energy system

Newcastle University’s Professor Ulrich Stimming, leader of the project, said: “There is a lot of work exploring big challenges in our energy system such as how do we reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuel, or build smarter energy networks.

“This project will address an equally important challenge which is how we work at the atomic and molecular level to make the energy sector more efficient and sustainable.”

The new Centre will run a number of different projects with each partner University contributing their existing strengths and ensuring the region’s energy research becomes more than the sum of its part.

Newcastle University’s Urban Science Building includes several full scale energy research laboratories, including the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration in which Durham University is a partner.

Northumbria University will build on researchers’ recent successes in developing solar paint and out-reach work with school students.

The North East of England’s industrial and technology strengths were also crucial to NECEM’s successful big for Government funding.

There are several local companies involved in the project including Solar Capture Technologies, Big Solar and Kromek, as well as large multinational companies with a base in the region, such as Siemens.

The intention is that NECEM will become a regional hub to engage with the industrial community within North East of England as well and the UK and internationally.

Durham University energy materials expertise

Durham University has a vibrant energy materials research community focusing on three key areas; photovoltaics, fuel cells & batteries and nuclear fusion. This research spans the departments of Engineering, Physics, Chemistry and Biology which is supported by advanced facilities for performing solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), electron microscopy, device fabrication and characterisation. 

The range of Durham departments that are engaged in the NECEM reflects the interdisciplinary strength of the Durham Energy Institute which unlocks research synergies between different disciplines and sectors, to tackle the energy demands of the future.

More generally, the NECEM award adds to the breadth of world-leading materials research across Durham University as demonstrated by the Centre for Materials Physics and Centre for Molecular and Nanoscale Electronics.

The Durham lead for the new North East Centre for Energy Materials is Dr Chris Groves (Department of Engineering), whose research focusses on organic electronics, while DrMichael Hunt (Department of Physics) will lead a NECEM project focussing on the exploitation of 2D materials.

Other researchers at Durham University who are involved in the centre include:

  • Dr Douglas Halliday and Dr Budhika Mendis (Department of Physics) – who will be working with Northumbria University on the solar energy materials project.
  • Dr Paul Hodgkinson (Department of Chemistry) who will be co-ordinating access to Durham's unique solid-state NMR facilities.
  • Dr Natasha Shirshova (Department of Engineering) who will be involved in the project focused on Recovering Waste Heat and powering Sensors for Smart Cities.