Supergen Programme delivers vision for net zero future at energy research conference

Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow later this year, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded Supergen Programme brought together the energy research community from 1 to 3 September 2021 to focus on the challenge of delivering net zero.

The six hubs (covering bioenergy, solar, offshore renewables, hydrogen and fuel cells, energy networks, and storage) showcased research and innovation and – with the support of a diverse range of external speakers from industry, policy, academia and the third sector – explored the difference that UK energy research is making to our industrial deployment, the power of our international partnerships, how our work is helping to shape government and international policy, and what the next steps should be for UK research and innovation to meet our global commitments.

The full programme of sessions and speakers is available below.

Supergen NZC Programme

Recordings of all the sessions is available on YouTube.

The Supergen Bioenergy Hub curated a number of sessions at the conference – more detail on these, along with speaker presentations, is below.

Biomass for net zero? The view from the Supergen Bioenergy Hub – Supergen Net Zero Conference

In this session we heard from each of the hub’s research topic groups: Resources (with a focus on greenhouse gas balances of land use and ecosystem benefits), Pre-treatment and Conversion (looking at different technologies for producing energy but also hydrogen and bioproducts), Vectors (discussing product purity and the changing decarbonisation landscape) and Systems (examining the wider sustainability context and going beyond system, technology, sector and global boundaries).

A panel discussion followed, which focused on the three themes of:

Greening the economy – looking at the wider ecosystem (flood defences, marginal land, biodiversity, waste management) and societal (jobs, income, education, growth of bioeconomy) benefits of bioenergy and bioproducts, as well as discussing hydrogen from biomass sources, and assessing sustainability impacts of biomass;

The future of sustainable transport – covering the technical barriers to transition, the immediate benefits of using biofuels and longer-term uses and solutions.

Securing a global transition to clean energy – looking at low- and middle-income countries, where bioenergy can address both waste and energy access issues, delivering economic and environmental benefits.

Introduction and overview, Patricia Thornley, Aston University

Topic Group 1 Feedstocks, Iain Donnison, Aberystwyth University

Topic Group 2 Enabling Technologies for the UK Bioeconomy, Jason Hallett, Imperial

Topic Group 2 Photocatalytic Biomass Reforming, Nathan Skillen, QUB

Topic Group 3 Energy Vectors, Sam Cooper, University of Bath

Topic Group 4 Sustainable Bioenergy Supporting Net-Zero Targets, Mirjam Roeder, Aston University

Summary, Patricia Thornley, Aston University

Keynote from Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Minister for Energy and the Green New Deal

Alan focused on the topic of hydrogen and noted that it has moved from being a technical issue to a major political issue, with significance for how hydrogen is used on the path to net zero and whether it will be produced and deployed in the best possible way. He said that government needs to properly support the production of green hydrogen, and the role for academia is in ensuring that policy doesn’t stray too far from what the science is telling us.

Policy implications of Supergen research ahead of COP26

This session was chaired by Supergen Bioenergy Hub Director, Patricia Thornley and opened with a keynote address from David Joffe, Head of Climate Budgets, Climate Change Committee.

David outlined the challenges of meeting the sixth carbon budget, where policy hasn’t yet caught up with ambition, and what needs to be delivered in the upcoming Net Zero Strategy which will be published ahead of COP26.

Each of the Supergen hubs then presented their key policy messages before a panel discussion featuring Miranda Elliott (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Jim Fleming (UK Research and Innovation), Frank Gordon (Renewable Energy Association), Gavin Slater (Glasgow City Council), Peter Smith (National Energy Action) and David Joffe (Climate Change Committee).

The panel discussed the importance of engaging with the public and for open and transparent debate so that citizens understand and support the changes policymakers are making. Panel members then highlighted some low-hanging fruit on the path to net zero (energy efficiency in buildings, electric vehicle roll-out, biofuels) before outlining their ideal outcomes from COP26 (a Glasgow Agreement and global consensus, a legacy for the public, increased commitments to research, global leadership from the UK, recognition of the need for a just transition and a financial solution for poorer countries).

Policy keynote, David Joffe, Climate Change Committee

Policy implications of the Supergen Energy Networks Hub research, Peter Taylor, University of Leeds

Policy implications of ORE Hub research, Henry Jeffrey, University of Edinburgh

Policy implications of Supergen SuperSolar Hub research, Mike Walls, Loughborough University P

olicy implications of Supergen Energy Storage Hub, Yulong Ding, University of Birmingham

Policy implications of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Hub research, Paul Dodds, UCL

Policy implications of Supergen Bioenergy Hub research, Patricia Thornley, Aston University

Visual representation of discussions on policy

Throughout the session on policy, a professional artist from Scriberia was capturing key elements of the discussion in the illustration below.

Summaries from other conference sessions

Hydrogen and fuel cells in a net zero world

SuperSolar Hub session

The role, value and needs of Energy Storage for Net-Zero by 2050

Supergen Programme