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Impact of energy research and capacity building

Energy Programme logo Impact on the economy

There are major economic opportunities through investing in energy research. Global energy markets are worth over a trillion dollars and set to grow. The Research Councils UK Energy Programme builds on existing RCUK investment to create new industries, new jobs, and greater commercial opportunities for the UK.

  • A new type of flexible, organic solar panel has been developed by a research team at the University of Warwick and spin-out company Molecular Solar Ltd. The team create their solar cells from an ultra-thin layer of gold deposited on to a flexible plastic film instead of the traditional method which uses glass. With support through the RCUK Energy Programme and Innovate UK, the company is now developing the very first prototypes for a global market estimated to be worth $100 million by 2020.
  • Intelligent Energy is the world’s largest independent fuel cell company and one of the fastest growing companies in Europe with major global partnerships in sectors including automotive (Suzuki), consumer electronics (Cable and Wireless) and stationary power (Microqual – a global telecommunications company with a strong presence in India, China and South America). Their fuel cell technology is behind the first manned flight of a fuel cell powered aircraft by Boeing, the first European approved fuel cell vehicle, and the zero carbon London taxis used in the 2012 Olympics. A core team of EPSRC-funded researchers from Loughborough University joined the company at its inception and lead its research and development. It is their knowledge and expertise in fuel cells, developed over 20 years, that gives Intelligent Energy a sustainable competitive advantage, resulting in a revenue of £44m in 2012 with a net profit of nearly £8m.
  • Ilika Technologies Ltd was founded in May 2004 as a spin-out from the School of Chemistry at the University of Southampton based on research supported by EPSRC and its predecessor SERC. Ilika invents, tests and selects materials in the laboratory that can be scaled-up for everyday commercial use. Ilika has chosen to focus on the energy, electronics and biomedical sectors. The company’s technology and discovered materials are protected through worldwide patent applications. In September 2012 Ilika received an equity investment of nearly £150,000 from the Carbon Trust, through its Polymer Fuel Cells Challenge programme, to support the commercialisation of Ilika’s electro-catalysts for use in fuel cell vehicles. This was followed in December 2012 by the granting of a US Patent for a novel platinum-free catalyst which Ilika states has been shown to be 70% cheaper than the current industry standard on a cost/performance basis. Ilika’s success was recognised in April 2012 when it was awarded the University Spin-out of the Year Award at the New Energy Awards 2012, a leading event in the renewable energy sector.

Impact on policy

The Research Councils UK Energy Programme is helping the UK make evidence-based decisions and policy.

  • Research funded through the programme has informed many aspects of UK government strategy, including the Nuclear Industrial Strategy (2013), the Bioenergy Strategy (2012), the Low Carbon Industrial Strategy (2009), the Energy White Paper (2007), and the Stern Review (2006).
  • Electricity policy research is helping to develop market instruments and regulatory mechanisms.

Major international links have been forged to address global energy challenges, for example with China on smart grids and energy storage, and with India on solar energy and fuel cells. A full list of recent RCUK initiatives with Chinese funders in energy research and some impact case studies can be found in the leaflet available here .

Impact on skills

The Research Councils UK Energy Programme is generating the skilled researchers and business leaders required to drive the transition to a low carbon future.

  • We support many PhD students working on energy research and about half of our graduates enter either business or the public sector within a year.
  • Thirteen new Centres for Doctoral Training in energy were sponsored by EPSRC following a call in 2013, some of which were continuations of existing initiatives. In addition, NERC supported a new CDT in oil and gas. A list of all of the current centres is given here.

Energy transformations

The RCUK Energy Programme supports a spectrum of low-carbon energy research to support the UK’s policy and business needs. We are currently preparing a suite of narratives which detail our contributions over the last ten years in a range of technology areas, which will be published here when available.

Further specific examples of the impacts from RCUK Energy Programme research can be found below:


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