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EBRI contributes ideas to stimulate energy innovation in the Midlands

The Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) is proposing 6 Big Ideas for a net zero future which could create 7,000 new jobs and deliver £1.5bn to the Midlands.

EBRI at Aston University, a partner of ERA has contributed our ideas to this key proposal submitted to government, and has supported the development of the low carbon fuels, biochar and small and medium-sized business (SME) growth themes.

EBRI contributes ideas to stimulate energy innovation in the Midlands

Working with a community of academics, industry, policy makers, the Manufacturing Technology Centre and the Energy Systems and Connected Places Catapults, ERA has identified many of the major national and regional energy challenges. By building on the facilities we have created and our collective expertise, we believe that we can provide significant future economic growth and stimulate the creation of new, high-skilled jobs. This process, called “Big Ideas” has distilled out six major themes and a further six cross-cutting activities. Our benchmarking indicates that our Big Ideas programme would deliver £1.5 billion to the regional economy and at least 6,800 high quality jobs.


The six Big Ideas that we would like to pursue in ERA phase 2, are listed below, and full details can be found in our proposal document.

1. Energy Storage

Medium-duration energy storage is going to be needed as part of decarbonised electricity systems and that large-scale demonstration projects are required. Short-term requirements may well be managed through the use of lithium-ion battery energy storage systems, but there is an increasing need for large-scale, medium-duration energy storage solutions. ERA is proposing and has significant capabilities in two of the most promising areas:

  • Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) – this could easily deliver the required scale of storage, but it needs to be technologically enhanced and demonstrated in order to build confidence in policy makers, funding bodies and the energy industry itself.
  • Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) technology – we propose be to develop a pilot-scale demonstrator for this technology which would be based at one of the ERA demonstration sites across the Midlands.

To support our energy storage ideas, we also suggest further development of the Energy System’s Catapult’s Storage and Flexibility Model, to understand the role that storage could play in the Midlands.

2. Decarbonising Heat

The decarbonisation of heat is the major energy challenge that will impact nearly every UK citizen. For the Midlands, this presents a major opportunity to enable economic recovery with the majority of UK boiler manufacturers being based in the region. We are proposing the development of a National Centre for Decarbonisation of Heat (NCDH), which will enable the rapid scaling-up of manufacturing, skills and deployment of heat solutions - all necessary to meet carbon reduction targets. The NCDH will focus on:

  • Manufacturing acceleration
  • Low-carbon fuel development for heat and industry
  • Skills academy
  • Business incubator
  • Building integration and a community-based living lab
  • Standards and verification
  • Green finance

3. System Simulation, Data, Digital and Informatics

Dramatic changes to our energy infrastructure is hard to manage and hard to plan and digitisation and data are of increasing importance. We are proposing 3 ideas:

  • A national-scale, real-time Whole Electricity System Simulator (WESS) to understand the fundamental risks within our UK power system and thereby improve our security of supply as we move towards a low-carbon electricity network.
  • A Digital Energy Systems, Data and Informatics programme which works regionally to nationally to establish the framework and tools for the management, curation and interpretation of energy data.
  • Digital Twins of the two Midlands cities of Birmingham and Nottingham to understand the energy, transport and resource flows.

4. Integrating Resource Recovery with Energy Production

The low-carbon management of resources produced in energy systems and beyond is essential. We are looking increase the circularity of waste, to increase the carbon efficiency of incineration and utilise carbon dioxide emitted in the process to form new by-products. We are also suggesting new uses for former industrial sites in the Midlands which have inefficiently burnt waste or have produced carbon-intensive energy for many years.
Our aim is to develop and demonstrate three new processes to recover key resources, produce energy and utilise CO2. These are:

  • Production and utilisation of biochar in locking-up carbon
  • Circularity in energy and electrified transport through the recovery and recycling of cricitcal metals
  • Recovery and recycling of plastics

5. Alternative Fuels

Development and characterisation of replacements for fossil fuels is essential in decarbonisation of transport sectors such as aviation and hard to reach off-grid homes for heat. We also recognise the need to produce hydrogen for heat and transport. We are proposing two innovations in this Big Idea:

  • The creation of a National Centre for Fuel Standards which will focus on the development of sustainable fuels for transport, particularly the aviation and marine sectors, as well as kerosene, methane, and propane substitutes for heating.
  • The production of hydrogen via nuclear energy by coupling a small-scale modular reactor to a hydrogen production plant.

6. Low Carbon Inter and Intra-Urban Transportation

Our aim in this theme is to develop low-carbon methods of transportation both for the regional freight and logistics sector and individual urban travel. Decarbonisation of regional transport can only be part delivered by electric cars. Freight and logistics will likely need other, hydrogen based, solutions. The two themes under this idea include:

  • Micromobility and electric vehicle solutions for Midlands cities. This will create demonstrator vehicles and programmes as an open platform for innovation. It will run real user trials, launch start-ups, assist existing businesses and create the ecosystem for new products to be launched into this growth market.
  • Regional hydrogen freight and public transport system. We will create a regional ecosystem for the development of a hydrogen transport system, working with the Humber ports, East Midlands Airport and Midlands Connect to develop projects which will establish hydrogen-based freight logistics to and from key Midlands locations.


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