Professor Patricia Thornley selected to lead Supergen Bioenergy hub

EPSRC has announced that Patricia Thornley will be one of three people appointed to lead the next stage of the Supergen Programme. Patricia will lead the Supergen Bioenergy Hub which will be led from here at The University of Manchester.

Headshot of Patricia Thornley

‌The Supergen Bioenergy hub will bring together a network of accademic, industrial and policy stake holders to address the technical and engineering barriers to sustainable bioenergy systems.  

 The aim is to investigate new approaches to bioenergy technologies whilst addressing challenges to maximise the environmental benefits of sustainable bioenergy.  This announcement will  lead to the development of an integrated, multi-disciplinary proposal for bioenergy research in the UK.

This role is one of three announced by EPSRC with the others being the leaders for the Supergen programme for Energy Networks and for Offshore Renewable Energy.  

The Supergen Programme, established in 2001, has supported seven Supergen hubs and aims to deliver co-ordinated research in key areas including bioenergy, solar technology, energy networks, energy storage, fuel cells and others.

 

 

Energy Research

Bioenergy is one of the strands within our Energy Research Beacon.

Energy is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons

High Voltage Laboratory gets major investment in new facilities

The University of Manchester has just been awarded £1.85m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for new high voltage test equipment that will support research and industrial engagement in the areas of electrical engineering and material science. The equipment will be installed in our High Voltage Laboratory, which in 2020 will form part of the University’s brand new £350m Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD).

Artist’s impression of the new HV lab on the MECD site

‌As electricity demand increases and more electricity is generated from low carbon sources (such as nuclear, wind, solar and marine), the UK’s transmission system requires change. Estimates suggest it may need to carry a peak power four times higher in the future than that carried today, and the electricity that flows through it will become more intermittent as wind and solar power are subject to variable weather conditions.

Our new laboratory equipment will enable academics to test power system components used on the transmission system, such as transformers and overhead line insulators. It will also develop an improved electricity system that is both cost-effective and has minimal impact on the environment (whether this be measured in terms of visual impact, noise, ability to recycle at end-of-life or a whole range of other factors).

The new investment will provide the capability for our researchers to generate high voltages and currents - allowing them to test equipment in polluted conditions - and a large test chamber, which will enable work in temperature ranges from -30 to 80oC.

Researchers will be able to apply over 800,000 volts continuously to objects, and at times up to 1.6 million volts to simulate the impact of lightning, and test equipment when water is sprayed on to surfaces in a way that replicates rainfall. When the equipment moves to the new MECD site, the specialist laboratory will operate 'quietly' and allow researchers to measure extremely small electromagnetic signals associated with failures in insulation systems.

As Manchester hosts complementary technology and innovation centres, we are in a prime position to realise the benefits that our interdisciplinary research brings. There are many opportunities associated with advanced materials that allow us to examine new ways to manufacture and operate transformers, overhead lines, cables and circuit breakers. Together with other facilities, including those of the Henry Royce Institute and the University’s National Graphene Institute, we will have the capability to translate underpinning materials science to the scale of full-size transmission system equipment.

The new university facilities will support academics as they continue to develop and deliver new technologies, such as transformers that use greener and safer insulating oils and overhead lines that can operate at reduced height and with quieter conductors. Our experts will also work closely with National Grid, which is developing a substation test environment in North Wales where assets associated with electricity networks can be tested off-grid, 24 hours, seven days a week. 

Potential approach to how radioactive elements could be ‘fished out’ of nuclear waste

Manchester scientists have revealed how arsenic molecules might be used to ‘fish out’ the most toxic elements from radioactive nuclear waste - a breakthrough that could make the decommissioning industry even safer and more effective.

‌Elizabeth Wildman, a PhD student in the research group led by Professor Steve Liddle based at The University of Manchester, has reported the first examples of thorium with multiple bonds to arsenic to exist under ambient conditions on multi-gram scales where before they had only been prepared on very small scales at temperatures approaching that of interstellar space (3-10 Kelvin). The finding is to be published in the leading journal Nature Communications.

“Nuclear power could potentially produce far less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, but the long-lived waste it produces is radioactive and needs to be handled appropriately,” said Elizabeth Wildman, from Manchester’s School of Chemistry.

“In order to find ways of separating, recycling and reducing the volume of nuclear waste, research has focussed on developing our understanding of how elements like thorium and uranium interact with elements from around the periodic table to potentially help improve nuclear waste clean-up.”

In order to find ways of separating, recycling and reducing the volume of nuclear waste, research has focussed on developing our understanding of how elements like thorium and uranium interact with elements from around the periodic table to potentially help improve nuclear waste clean-up.

Elizabeth Wildman

 

Professor Liddle, Head of Inorganic Chemistry and Co-Director of the Centre for Radiochemistry Research at The University of Manchester, added: “We need to reduce the volume of nuclear waste in order to make it easier to handle and process it to remove benign elements or separate the high level from low level waste.”

This research follows up on previous research published on uranium-phosphorus, uranium-arsenic, and thorium-phosphorus chemistry. This latest study looked at how the soft element arsenic interacts with thorium, because arsenic could, in principle, be used in organic molecules that bond to metal atoms and improve extraction processes.

“There is currently significant interest in using organic molecules to extract, selectively, metal ions from the ‘soup’ of nuclear waste and fish out the more radioactive and toxic ones and leave the rest behind,” he added.

“This requires an understanding of chemical bonding and how the organic extractants bind to different metals. We can then exploit this knowledge to achieve separation by having them selectively bind to one type of metal and remove it from the soup.

“There is mounting evidence that the molecules that are best at this contain soft donor atoms to the metals. Thus, we need to understand soft donor-to-metal binding better.

“Arsenic is a soft donor, so we have prepared model complexes with it to understand the nature of the bonding. Until now, complexes exhibiting multiple bonds between thorium and arsenic were limited to spectroscopic experiments carried out at temperatures close to that of interstellar space (3-10 Kelvin) where only a few molecules were made at a time.

“Here, we have made molecules in multi-gram quantities and they are stable under ambient conditions enabling us to study them more straightforwardly. We might be able to use this new knowledge and understanding in a real system in the future.”

The research was carried out in the School of Chemistry in a joint project between the universities of Manchester and Regensburg and was funded and supported by the Royal Society, European Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and COST.

Citation: “Triamidoamine Thorium-Arsenic Complexes with Parent Arsenide, Arsinidiide and Arsenido Structural Motifs” E. P. Wildman, G. Balázs, A. J. Wooles, M. Scheer, and S. T. Liddle, Nat. Comm., 20178, 14769.

Energy

Energy is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons

Artificial intelligence and robots to make offshore wind farms safer and cheaper

The University of Manchester is leading a consortium to investigate advanced technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence, for the operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms.

‌The remote inspection and asset management of offshore wind farms and their connection to the shore is an industry which will be worth up to £2 billion annually by 2025 in the UK alone.

Eighty to ninety per cent of the cost of offshore operation and maintenance according to the Crown Estate is generated by the need to get site access – in essence get engineers and technicians to remote sites to evaluate a problem and decide what action to undertake.

Such inspection takes place in a remote and hazardous environment and requires highly trained personnel of which there is likely to be a shortage in coming years.

The £5m project will investigate the use of advanced sensing, robotics, virtual reality models and artificial intelligence to reduce maintenance cost and effort. Predictive and diagnostic techniques will allow problems to be picked up early, when easy and inexpensive maintenance will allow problems to be readily fixed. Robots and advanced sensors will be used to minimise the need for human intervention in the hazardous offshore environment.

The UK has world-leading expertise in the technologies and science in this area, but they have often operated separately. The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have supported this project to bring them together for the first time to make a real step change in this industry.

 

Professor Mike Barnes

 

The use of robots will allow operation in difficult or hazardous environments: sub-sea to inspect cables, in high-voltage environments to inspect high voltage equipment and around the wind turbines to check their mechanical structures. The latest in advanced sensors will be used, for example sonar techniques to assess sub-sea cable wear and degradation in situ. This, along with state-of-the-art system modelling and artificial intelligence, will be used to best assess the data produced.

The University of Manchester’s Professor Mike Barnes, who is leading the three-year project, said: “The UK has world-leading expertise in the technologies and science in this area, but they have often operated separately. The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have supported this project to bring them together for the first time to make a real step change in this industry.”

The project is a collaboration between the universities of Manchester, Durham, Warwick, Cranfield, Heriot-Watt and a consortium of companies from the offshore industry. Techniques will be trialled in an offshore test site in Scotland and a project demonstration will be given at Salford Quays, Manchester.

Energy

Energy is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons

  

Manchester leading new European drive to tackle energy poverty

A consortium of 13 organisations, including universities, think tanks, and the business sector, is coming together to form a specialist ‘knowledge hub’ to help people from across Europe tackle the issue of energy poverty.

Coordinated by Dr Harriet Thomson and Professor Stefan Bouzarovski from the University of Manchester, the European Energy Poverty Observatory (EPOV) aims to engender transformational change in knowledge about the extent of energy poverty in Europe, as well as innovative policies and practices to address it.

This cutting edge project, funded by the European Commission, involves an Advisory Board of over 50 leading stakeholders from across Europe. This includes Theresa Griffin MEP, chair of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats working group on energy poverty, and Adrian Joyce, Secretary General of EuroACE and Campaign Director of Renovate Europe.

Recognition of energy poverty is growing across Europe, and the issue has been identified as a policy priority in the European Commission’s flagship Clean Energy package announced on 30th November 2016. Europe-wide energy poverty affects over 50 million households. People are battling to pay their bills on time, combat damp and mould in their home, and achieve adequate levels of energy services in their home - such as heating, cooling, and lighting.

There’s a growing integration of energy poverty analysis and policy in European Commission activities – so it’s now more important than ever to build a specialist network of stakeholders working on energy poverty in Europe.

Dr Harriet Thomson

 

It’s widely agreed that energy poverty across Europe is due to high energy prices, low household incomes, inefficient buildings and appliances, and specific household energy needs. Living in energy poverty is linked to ill health – with respiratory and cardiac illnesses, and mental health, exacerbated due to low temperatures and stress associated with unaffordable energy bills.

In fact energy poverty has an indirect effect on many policy areas - including health, environment and productivity. So addressing it would bring multiple benefits, including less money spent by governments on health, reduced air pollution, better comfort and wellbeing, improved household budgets and increased economic activity.

Harriet continued: “The EU Observatory will not only help people to access information on the extent of energy poverty across European Member States – it will also make available information on measures to combat it. There will be comprehensive, innovative and evidence-based practice and policy frameworks.”

According to Professor Stefan Bouzarovski, who chairs the Observatory’s Steering Committee: “The Observatory is closely linked with a range of existing research activities at the University of Manchester, particularly the Collaboratory for Urban Resilience and Energy within the Manchester Urban Institute, as well as Manchester Energy. It builds on the University’s path-breaking scientific and policy engagement with wider European and global challenges around questions of social inequality and environmental sustainability.”

The EU Observatory, which launches in December 2017, will be a user friendly and open access resource bringing together data from across Europe. As well as this it will enable networking and joint working; its member organisations will share information and resources, and organise outreach work – connecting and building on good practice schemes tackling energy poverty.

The consortium members are: The University of Manchester, Ecofys, Intrasoft International, The European Policy Centre, National Energy Action, Wuppertal Institute, Asociación de Ciencias Ambientales, Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving, ECODES, Energy Action, The EnAct project, the EU Fuel Poverty Network, and Housing Europe.

Harriet added: “EPOV will be of great benefit to many people from international bodies such as the UN, scientists, think-tanks, and national and supranational decision makers, to social and health care workers, advocacy groups and housing providers.”

Energy and addressing global inequalities

Energy and Addressing Global Inequalities are among The University of Manchester’s research beacons- examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons

 

NASA rover technology to be used in project to map nuclear sites comprehensively

University of Manchester scientists are leading a team that is to comprehensively map some of the world’s most radioactive sites using sensing technology mounted on an advanced robotic vehicle.

The world is home to a large number of sites that are contaminated with radioactive waste and require clean-up and analysis. Currently, the options to map and assess these sites are extremely expensive and time-consuming – involving either removing samples for lab analysis or sending in remote sensors which only give part of the necessary picture.

The team, led by The University of Manchester, has been awarded a £1.6 million grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to form a group that will develop a new robotic system with the ability to use a wider range of sensors than ever before to map nuclear sites.

Featuring optical spectroscopic techniques, advanced radiation detection methods and modern sensor technologies on remotely-operated vehicle platforms, each sensing technology will provide a piece of the ‘total characterisation’ jigsaw, together with 3D mapping of the material within the environment.

It will feature advanced robotics and control technologies, such as those used in NASA’s Curiosity Rover, to form the flexible platform necessary for trials in nuclear environments ranging from Sellafield in the UK, to Fukushima in Japan.

Principal Investigator, Dr Phil Martin from The University of Manchester's School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, said: "This is an exciting project bringing together a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and engineers to develop a really innovative system for remote characterisation of a range of nuclear environments which should lead to big improvements in the decommissioning process."

 

AVEXIS - miniROV - UoM Robotics - Nuclear Decomissioning Underwater Robot - 2nd trails from UoM Robotics on Vimeo.

The Consortium, known as TORONE (TOtal characterisation by Remote Observation in Nuclear Environments), is also made up of scientists from Lancaster and Aston Universities, the National Nuclear Laboratory and the UK Atomic Energy Authority. The project is for three years’ duration and starts on 1st March 2017.

The TORONE group will be working with Sellafield, and Sellafield Ltd Robotics, and Autonomous Systems Lead Dr Paul Mort said: “Characterisation of materials is of critical importance on the Sellafield site. Improved understanding of what materials are and where they are in our facilities offers considerable benefits when we are planning and carrying out decommissioning activities.

“A technology that is cheap and able to be remotely deployed simply and quickly to inspect materials in-situ will make it safer for humans and give an opportunity to get better data to make more informed decisions. This technology would have far reaching applications on site and has the potential to improve productivity, thereby reducing decommissioning timescales and costs.”

Professor Francis Livens, Director of The University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, said: “As we decommission nuclear facilities around the world, it has become very clear that we have to be smarter, because that allows us to be quicker, cheaper and safer. New ideas, such as these, are vital if we are to do this.”

Lancaster University Co-Investigator Professor Malcolm Joyce said: “This is an exciting opportunity to integrate the state-of-the-art in radiation detection and robotics.”

As we decommission nuclear facilities around the world, it has become very clear that we have to be smarter, because that allows us to be quicker, cheaper and safer. New ideas, such as these, are vital if we are to do this.

Professor Francis Livens

 

The news follows another recent announcement that the University of Manchester is to lead a consortium to build the next generation of robots that are more durable and perceptive for use in nuclear sites.

For more information on research in this area, visit the Manchester Robotics website.

TORONE is led by UoM Principal Investigator Dr Philip Martin (School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Sciences). Co-Investigators at UoM comprise Prof. Barry Lennox (School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) and Prof Nick Smith (Royal Society Industry Fellow, Schools of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, seconded from NNL); Lancaster University Co-Investigator Prof. Malcolm Joyce (School of Engineering) and Aston University Co-Investigator Dr Michael Aspinall (School of Life and Health Sciences).
Funding of £1.6 million is from the EPSRC through its Remote Sensing in Extreme Environments call.

Energy

Energy is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons

Next generation of nuclear robots will go where none have gone before

The University of Manchester is to lead a consortium to build the next generation of robots that are more durable and perceptive for use in nuclear sites.

The cost of cleaning up the UK’s existing nuclear facilities is estimated to be between £95 billion and £219 billion over the next 120 years or so. The harsh conditions within these facilities means that human access is highly restricted and much of the work will need to be completed by robots.

Present robotics technology is simply not capable of completing many of the tasks that will be required. Whilst robotic systems have proven to be of great benefit at Fukushima Daiichi NPP, their limitations, which include relatively straightforward tasks such as turning valves, navigating staircases and moving over rough terrain, have also been highlighted.

The new group comprising Manchester, the University of BirminghamUniversity of the West of England (UWE) and industrial partners Sellafield LtdEDFUKAEA and NuGen has been funded with £4.6m from The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

This programme of work will enable us to fundamentally improve RAS capabilities, allowing technologies to be reliably deployed into harsh environments, keeping humans away from the dangers of radiation

Professor Barry Lennox

It will develop robots which have improved sensing, communications and processing power. They will also develop systems that are able to address issues around grasping and manipulation, computer vision and perception. Importantly, the robots will be autonomous – able to operate without direct supervision by humans.

The University of Manchester’s Professor Barry Lennox, who is leading this project, said: “This programme of work will enable us to fundamentally improve RAS capabilities, allowing technologies to be reliably deployed into harsh environments, keeping humans away from the dangers of radiation.”

Within the next five years, the researchers will produce prototype robots, which will then be trialled in both active and inactive environments. It is anticipated that these trials will include using robotic manipulators to autonomously sort and segregate waste materials and to use multiple robots, working collaboratively, to characterise facilities that may not have been accessed for 40 years or more.

The technology will not only have potential for improving robots used at nuclear sites, but also in other hostile environments such as space, sub-sea, and mining, and in situations such as bomb-disposal and healthcare, which are dangerous or difficult for humans.

The University of Manchester has already developed small submersible and ground-based vehicles that can be deployed to survey nuclear facilities that will be used in this project, allied with the skills and knowledge of the other partners.

Professor Lennox added: “If we are to be realistic about clearing up contaminated sites, then we have to invest in this type of technology. These environments are some of the most extreme that exist, so the benefits of developing this technology can also apply to a wide range of other scenarios.”

Energy is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons

 

On Energy Launch Event

Wednesday 8th November 2017 

House of Commons,    Westminster,  London

 

Manchester Energy and Policy@Manchester will launch their new publication ‘On Energy’,  in the Churchill Room of the House of Commons on Wednesday 8 November.

 

The publication draws on expertise from across The University of Manchester and external collaborators to provide thought leadership and expert analysis on issues such as climate change, fuel poverty, the economic viability of nuclear power and multi-energy systems. Authors include Lord Jim O’Neill, Prof Alice Larkin, Prof Patricia Thornley and Prof Francis Livens.

 

This invitation only event will be a chance to network with and hear from some of the leading thinkers in energy policy, find out more about the energy research at The University of Manchester, and get a limited edition printed version of our new publication.

 

 

Tyndall Seminar Series: Can fracking be fair?

Matthew Cotton of University of York

26th October 2017, 12noon - 13.00 hrs. Room C21 Pariser Building

 

The development of unconventional fossil fuels using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques raises issues of environmental and public health risks to water management, climate change, traffic congestions, air, noise and light pollution, and seismic activity. It also has the potential to create technological stigmatisation, identity disruption and social decline in the communities it affects.

Such impacts are unevenly distributed between host communities, land-owners, and fracking developers; alongside uneven decision-making powers and economic benefits. This paper discusses the distributive and procedural justice dimensions of fracking in the UK. I examine the discourses of fracking threat and opportunity, recent developments relating to regulatory systems and institutional arrangements, changes to powers of local authorities and the adequacy of industry-led community compensation and consultation processes with recommendations for future policy directions.

 

Dalton Nuclear Institute Seminar Series: Small scale production of high-purity plutonium metal POSTPONED

Kerri Blobaum of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

September 2017, 12.15 - 13.15 hrs. Room H.02 Renold Building

Unfortunately we have had to postpone this seminar 

Small-scale scientific experiments require high-purity, low activity plutonium metal that is formed into components with nanoscale surface finishes and micron-scale surface features. A process has been developed for winning micro-ingots (~300 mg) of alpha-phase Pu metal from plutonium oxide. This process involves chemical removal of Am-241, followed by a fluorination process. The metal is formed via a metallothermic reaction in an induction furnace.  The nickel contamination entered the process during the fluorination step, which involves high-temperature HF gas in nickel tubes. Kerri will describe  efforts to minimize nickel contamination, resulting in recent batches of this Pu metal that show significantly decreased impurity concentrations.  She will also give an overview of the Materials Science Division at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, highlighting their capabilities for processing, handling and characterising small-scale actinide samples.

 

Dalton Nuclear Institute Seminar Series: An Overview of Nuclear Law

Maxine Symington of International law firm Gowling WLG

31st May 2017, 12.15 - 13.15 hrs. Room 4.04 Simon Building

An Overview of Nuclear Law

During this talk, Maxine will present a helicopter view of the fascinating body of international convention and policy governing our civil nuclear power plants, developed against a backdrop of safety, security and safeguarding considerations towards keeping the world safe from any harmful effects of nuclear proliferation.

 

Vice President of UK Women in Nuclear, Maxine Symington is a nuclear law specialist and leading nuclear construction lawyer working as Nuclear Practice Director for International Law Firm Gowling WLG. She has 20 years of experience in the energy industry advising key participants on new-build and decommissioning projects as well as helping clients navigate through the regulatory, contractual and commercial challenges of contracting in the nuclear sector. 

Maxine also specialises in a variety of nuclear law issues including nuclear liability risk and indemnities, nuclear export/import control, back-end liabilities and safety resilience issues and regularly speaks at international nuclear events.

 

Tyndall Manchester Seminar Series: Low Carbon Heat Infrastructure

Dr Mei Ren, BuroHappold and The University of Manchester

23rd February 2017, 4.00pm Lecture theatre C1, George Begg Building

Abstract

We have taken our energy supply for granted in the past. A step change is required to understand the
challenges we are facing and to achieve the potentials of energy infrastructure which present a huge
opportunity not only for unlocking growth but also in achieving environmental and social goals.
This talk will first set the context of why the low carbon heat infrastructure is needed, followed by the
initiatives and policies that the government has currently put in place. Successful delivery of low
carbon infrastructure needs strong leadership from local authorities and private and public
partnership. Business models can be developed to suit individual cities and towns, embracing private
sector investment with local authority leadership. This talk will also describe available technologies
and use a number of case studies (which are in varying stages of development) to explain the
rationale for selection of appropriate technologies, business model and the lessons learnt.

 

Dr. Mei Ren, BuroHappold, is Royal Academy Visiting Professor in Environmental Sustainability at The
University of Manchester. She is a Director in BuroHappold, with 20 years of exprience in green
building design and energy consulting ranging from private developments to public sector policy
studies. She is passionate about embedding sustainability in every element of deign and strategy. In
2014, Dr. Ren was awarded NCE/ACE Sustainability Champion Consultant of the Year.

▲ Up to the top