Tackling the Climate Crisis with Energy Transitions

Our third year Aerospace Engineering student Kieran Tait recently returned from a transformative journey through Western Canada, representing the University at the Energy Transitions summer school at the University of Alberta. A timely topic following the recent declaration of climate emergency here at the university. Over to Kieran to tell us about his time in Alberta…

Kieran underneath a glacier in Lake Louise, Banff National Park.

Throughout the two weeks, we endured a 40-hour lecture series, in which world-leading industry experts and researchers presented to us the current state of energy, the outlook for the future and an insight into different types of energy systems and their relative merits. This was superbly rounded off with insightful field trips including a tour around a wind farm and a hydroelectric dam, which really helped to contextualise the lectures.

The course was coordinated by the Worldwide Universities network, in which 21 representatives from 13 universities worldwide came together to study the practicalities of decarbonising society. The network brought a diversity of cultures and study areas together, which really shed light on the interconnectedness of the energy crisis and the need for mass mobilisation of society to focus minds on the solutions to the single biggest existential crisis humanity has ever faced. Climate breakdown.

The impending breakdown of our climate is an issue faced by every living being on Earth: no matter your nationality, race, gender, beliefs or background, the impacts of a warming world will completely transform your standard of living in the coming decades unless drastic steps are taken in the next 18 months to transition away from our current overconsuming, unsustainable way of life.

If we fail to meet this objective, we can expect unprecedented weather events, resulting in scarcity of basic human resources such as land, food and water, mass migration in the hundreds of millions and potentially the collapse of civilisation as we know it. Worse still, we can expect all of this as early as 2050 if action is not taken immediately. The seemingly impossible task imposed on our current generation is unparalleled in scale and complexity. It will require a collaboration among all disciplines and every nation on earth to achieve the sort of far reaching and functional solutions required to give us the best chance of limiting the warming trajectory preventing us from passing the point of no return.

Visiting the TransAlta wind farm in Pincher Creek, known as the Wind Capital of Canada.

The course in Energy Transitions provided me with the fundamental knowledge required to propose a logical working plan to phase out the current destructive energy policy and replace it with a more sustainable alternative. This included an overview of current climate science and projections for the future global energy mix, followed by an insight into a variety of energy production methods, including traditional fossil based systems such as coal, oil and gas and renewable types such as wind, solar, hydro, marine, geothermal, nuclear, biomass and hydrogen fuel cells.

The science behind each technology was explained thoroughly and the social, environmental and political implications associated with each type were also discussed. Also carbon sequestration methods such as Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage and land reclamation were explained to us in great depth, as it is clear that we need to not only reduce emissions to zero, but also begin to remove emissions that already exist in the atmosphere if we are to maximise our chances of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Alongside lectures, we also got the chance to go to Pincher Creek, a town in southern Alberta which is home to a large number of wind farm projects, making use of the region’s windy climate. We got the chance to visit a wind farm and go inside a turbine and we were also shown around a hydroelectric dam, bringing to life the concepts studied in lectures. Further to this we visited Waterton Lakes national park to experience some of the natural beauty Canada has to offer.

The group outside the house of the University’s founder Alexander Rutherford, before a ceremonial dinner.

When we returned, it was back to work as we all were tasked with presenting to the rest of the group, a proposal for energy transition solutions throughout different areas of the world. My team and I were given the job of proposing an EU wide energy transition plan. A timely subject following the newly anointed European Commissioner’s calls for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. This task involved reviewing current policy and future goals, developing a sustainable infrastructure plan which would sufficiently meet increasing demand and discussing the issues associated with this transition.

Working with students from Spain, Ghana and Brazil led to some contrasting opinions and views on various subject matters, however the overwhelming consensus was that the transition had to phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible, acknowledging the need to sacrifice living standards in order to allow this rapid transition to happen. It is reassuring to know that despite our cultural differences, we all share the same view that action must be taken immediately, and we must undergo a process of degrowth to cut further emissions and keep temperature rises to a minimum to avert catastrophic climate change.

All in all, this course excelled at bringing like-minded inquisitive individuals together from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds to discuss the most pressing technological, political and ethical challenge humanity has ever faced. It’s admittedly a very frightening time to be a young person, but its undeniable that the times ahead present humanity with a chance to reach a new age in technological and cognitive ability and will allow for multi-national cooperation like the world has never seen before. I would like to thank the Worldwide Universities Network, the University of Alberta and everybody involved for making this incredible experience a possibility!

It’s fantastic to hear Kieran’s passion and enthusiasm for combating the climate crisis we are facing through engineering and renewable energy solutions. This is something that the University is highly committed to and this year world-leading renewable energy expert Andrew Garrard will be joining the Faculty as a visiting professor to enhance our teaching of sustainable energy not only to our engineering undergraduates but to students across the University. 

Upcoming Events

  • Climate Emergency Lecture, 27 September Kieran will be delivering a talk at the Climate Emergency Lecture on decarbonising the aviation industry through electric aircraft and the use of alternative fuels. See event details here.

  • Dr Andrew Garrard Inaugural Lecture, 3 October Andrew has unrivalled technical and business experience in the sustainable energy sector. His lecture will explore the political means adopted to achieve the recent dramatic global growth in renewables and the engineering challenges, technical and political, which face the next generation of engineers. Get your free ticket here.

Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day

Sunday 23rd June is International Women in Engineering Day – we are proud to have so many amazing women working and studying here, in such a wide variety of disciplines and roles. Here are just a few…

Professor Lucy Berthoud – Professor of Space Engineering

I teach SpaProfessor Lucy Berthoudcecraft Systems Engineering in the Aerospace Engineering department and I also work in industry at Thales Alenia Space UK -a spacecraft design company. In industry I work on satellite design for future science missions and at the University of Bristol I work with students to help them to design and build their own satellites.

Read more about Lucy’s work

Kalyani Rajkumar – Research Associate, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Kalyani RajkumarKalyani successfully completed her postgraduate course in Advanced Microelectronic Systems Engineering (AMSE) at the University of Bristol and now works on 5G technology at the Smart Internet lab at the University.

Read more about her student experience.

Dr Antonia Tzemanaki – Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering – Member of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory

I reDr Antonia Tzemanakisearch and develop wearable robotic devices with application in healthcare. This can lead to finding novel solutions to problems that can transform society, which I find very exciting. I also try to combine teaching and research, as working with students on these challenges can be very fulfilling.

Christine Braganza and Ella Allan (students, Department of Mechanical Engineering) and Octavia Clark (student, Engineering Design)

Christine Braganza, Ella Allan and Octavia Clark

Christine, Octavia and Ella created ‘A Grand Gromplication’ for the 2018 Gromit Unleashed 2 charity trail with the help of our brilliant technicians. Read more.

 

 

Professor Weiru Liu – Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Research Director

Professor Weiru LiuMy research is to investigate advanced technologies for developing data-driven intelligent autonomous systems in an  increasingly connected world, so as to  benefit our society and our citizens. Applications of intelligent autonomous systems  are endless, from future transportation, digital health, to personal assistance and  environment monitoring, to name a few.

Dr Ruzanna Chitchyan – EPSRC fellow on Living with Environmental Change and Yael Zekaria – Research Associate, Department of Computer Science

RuzaDr Ruzanna Chitchyan and Yael Zekaria at the International Conference on ICT for Sustainabilitynna is providing software support as the UK’s energy system moves from a fossil fuel-based, centralised set up to a clean, localised, renewables-based alternative. Yael works on modelling skills shortages and training needs, helping  to ensure that the work force is ready for such a transition. Their work is essential to ensure the UK continues to have a reliable, affordable energy supply to homes and businesses. They also focus on the societal impact of the new energy models, making sure that they lead to positive social and community building activities.

Ruzanna is a member of the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

Rachael De’Ath – Senior Teaching Associate, Department of Civil Engineering

Rachael De'Ath working on siteI am a Chartered Structural Engineer at Arup Bristol as well as lecturing at University. I love designing buildings and working as part of a team to deliver them. I think it is really important as it can make such a difference to many people. My particular area of interest and experience is in reuse of existing buildings which I believe is a really important part of sustainable development, as well as always being an interesting challenge as an Engineer!

Rachael was one of the Telegraph Top 50 Women in Engineering 2018.

Grace Kelly and Cora Fung – students, Department of Civil Engineering

Grace Kelly and Cora Fung receiving their awards

Grace Kelly and Cora Fung came first and second in the Institute of Civil Engineers South West Emerging Engineers Award.

The Emerging Engineers Award promotes and rewards outstanding communication of civil engineering ideas and research.

Read the news story.

Dr Karen Aplin – Senior Lecturer in Space Engineering

Dr Karen Aplin and Dr Keri Nicoll working on the Snowdon summit

In this picture I’m with my colleague Dr Keri Nicoll (Universities of Bath and Reading) working on my cosmic ray and meteorological station at Snowdon Summit. I study the effects of space weather on our atmosphere and this research is part of a Welsh language outreach project run by the Royal Astronomical Society. Two Bristol Engineering undergraduate women are also working on this project – Ilham Said from the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Annabelle Bale from Engineering Mathematics.

 

Cara Williamson and Anouk Spelt – PhD students

Cara Williamson and Anouk Spelt

Cara and Anouk are based in the Bio-Inspired Flight lab under the supervision of Dr Shane Windsor. Together, they set up the Urban Gull Project which uses GPS tags to follow 11 lesser black-backed gulls nesting on roofs in Bristol. The project combines engineering and biology. They aim to investigate how urban gulls use and navigate through the urban environment to find out how they save energy and use this knowledge to improve drone navigation in cities. They have also designed and run an outreach event to inspire young people in underrepresented demographics to choose a career in STEM subjects, So far they’ve reached more than 550 young people in Bristol.

Catherine Manning – HR Officer

Catherine Manning
I see myself as facilitator – helping all staff within the Engineering Faculty not only to enjoy being at work, but to fulfill their career potential.  No two days are the same!  I could be supporting someone with disabilities that needs extra assistance, providing HR training on terms and conditions of employment or working on faculty-led projects that promote staff well-being. It’s a busy and varied role and I thoroughly enjoy being part of a team.

Valentina Noacco – NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Water and Environmental Engineering Research Group
Valentina Noacco speaking at a workshopValentina works with the insurance sector to help them make more robust decisions based on their catastrophe models.  By transferring methods, software and expertise on uncertainty and sensitivity analysis, this research has an impact in the real world ensuring financial resilience and better preparation for when disasters hit.

 

Dr Valeska Ting – Reader in Smart Nanomaterials, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Dr Valeska Ting working in the labI am a materials engineer working on the design, fabrication and testing of nanomaterial-based composites. The materials we develop will help us to lower the carbon dioxide emissions from transportation and will allow the adoption of more sustainable fuel sources such as renewable hydrogen.

 

Want to be part of our community?

We’re always looking for more excellent people to join our community. See the full list of job opportunities in the Faculty of Engineering.

Find out more about undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Read about our work to improve diversity.

Building earthquake-proof schools in Nepal

The 2015 earthquake in Nepal was devastating. 9,000 people died, 3.5 million were left homeless and whole communities were flattened.

Our Civil Engineers have been working with local experts, the Government of Nepal, the Universities of Kathmandu and Tribhuvan, Arup International Development, NSET, Save the Children and school pupils in Nepal to save lives by making buildings and communities safer – starting with schools.

The project, led by Professor Anastasios Sextos, combines cutting edge research and laboratory-based testing with co-produced solutions developed with and by communities in Nepal.

For the project to succeed the solutions must be affordable, locally-sourced and acceptable to local people. During the last field trip our researchers spoke to lots of Nepalese people who witnessed the devastation caused by collapsed buildings in the 2015 quake.

We’re using our seismic shaking table to see how replicas of Nepalese classrooms, strengthened using novel yet cost-effective techniques, perform in earthquake conditions. ~We are also developing a simple, state-of-the-art phone app that lets local engineers identify at-risk schools and make them safer while facilitating informed decision making at a central level.

All our research is supported by workshops and on-site training so, aided by our local and international partners, we’re leaving behind the skills and expertise for communities to rebuild Nepal safely.

The team are heading out to Nepal again in April and will be updating us on this exciting project.

Using sound waves to detect deadly diseases

Professor Bruce Drinkwater and acoustic levitator

Professor Bruce Drinkwater and his colleagues in Brazil are using acoustics to detect disease. Their collaboration was one of the six projects shortlisted in the Brazil category for the prestigious 2018 Newton Prize.

Sand fly biting skin
Sand flies transfer the parasites that cause Leishmaniasis
Bruce believes that new technology is the key to tackling the challenges of disease and poverty. He said, “As an engineer, working with the end-users of this technology, this is an area where I can make a difference. Leishmaniasis is a tropical disease that’s endemic in 97 countries. More than a million new cases occur each year world-wide and without early diagnosis, people are at risk of disability and death.  Parasites, transferred by sand-fly bites, cause ulcers of the skin, mouth and nose with skin lesions resembling leprosy. Unchecked, infections can be life-limiting, leading to horrific disfigurement, fever, loss of red blood cells and an enlarged spleen and liver.”  

Bruce is working with Professor Glauber Silva from the Federal University of Alagoas in Brazil.

Regular communication is crucial in this interdisciplinary project. Here Professors Silva and Moreira in Brazil discuss the experimental results of a new diagnostic device in a video link to Professor Drinkwater in the UK.
The team have made some fantastic breakthroughs in the area of disease detection: “We are developing small and robust prototype acoustic devices that have the potential to detect Leishmaniasis. The lab-on-a-chip devices use acoustic forces to sort and sense thousands of cells, or other microscopic objects, simultaneously. In Leishmania, the infected cells (macrophages) have different mechanical properties from healthy cells. We can exploit this difference in various ways, sorting diseased from healthy cells is just one. The devices can also help detect antibodies in blood and antigens in urine samples by concentrating them with ultrasonic forces. This leads to more rapid diagnosis and monitoring of the disease.

If successful, theses devices could have a huge impact on the lives of those in Brazil and other developing countries: “Leishmaniasis  is one of the NTDs that lag far behind HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria when it comes to research funding. It affects 20,000 people each year in parts of Brazil where poverty, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation are major risk factors. If we can have an impact on Leishmaniasis, the same techniques could be used against other NTDs, transforming outcomes for some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. “

If we can have an impact on Leishmaniasis, the same techniques could be used against other neglected tropical diseases, transforming outcomes for some of the world’s most disadvantaged people.

“These devices are undergoing testing by Brazilian biomedical researchers working on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) with promising results. After further development of the devices, the next phase will be field trials in hard to access areas where help is most needed.

More information

Newton Fund:
The Newton Fund was launched in 2014 to promote economic development in countries eligible for official development assistance (ODA). A grant from the Newton fund and the Royal Society made possible Bruce’s research partnership with Professor Glauber Silva from the Federal University of Alagoas in Brazil, enabling them to bring together a multidisciplinary team with expertise in engineering, physics and biomedicine.

https://www.newtonfund.ac.uk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leishmaniasis  (Content note: graphic images depicting disease)

World Toilet Day: In celebration of the toilet

For World Toilet Day we spoke to Gro Slotsvik, Global Challenges Research Manager for the Faculty of Engineering, about the importance of toilets and how engineers are working with local communities around the world to create global access to clean water and sanitation. 

“It’s one of the less glamorous parts of life. You’ll spend some part of your day, every day, in its company. You probably rarely think about its positive impact on your life. The humble toilet, does not get the attention it deserves.

“So opens the Water & Sanitation session of day three of the Global Engineering Congress in London. Over 2500 participants from 82 countries are finding new ways to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) together. There are civil, electrical and mechanical engineers, policymakers, research councils, UN agencies, charities, development organisations, artists and lawyers. And there is a buzz in the air.”

The sanitation challenge

“As the world tackles poverty, climate change and providing education for all, poor sanitation is stalling progress. Worldwide, 2.4 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation services, like toilets. Poor sanitation causes the deaths of over 1,200 children under five, every day. In 2016, inadequate sanitation and hygiene were the cause of more than half a million deaths from diarrhoea alone. A lack of toilets and latrines affects education, health, economic development and our environment.

“The toilet, our unsung hero of sanitation, has a key role to play in achieving the SDGs. None of the other Goals, on equality, poverty and climate action, can be achieved without achieving Goal 6. This Goal states that by 2030 all people should have access to clean water and sanitation. We need toilets to save the world.”

The solutions

“There is no quick fix when it comes to toilets. The toilet that works well in rural Somerset is unlikely to work in rural Sudan. Differences in water levels, space, number of people using the same toilet and how hot, cold, dry or humid the climate is mean that different places need different things. The challenges are diverse and so the solutions need to be too.

“Sanitation for all cannot be achieved without engineers who understand the local context. At the University of Bristol, our engineers are addressing the SDGs in partnerships with local communities and researchers. When we help create earthquake resilient schools in Nepal, map waterborne infectious diseases in the Congo or build sustainable energy systems for refugees in Rwanda, we do so with those who know the conditions best.

“In the case of making sure the world has access to clean water and sanitation, it starts with the humble toilet. Next time you see one, consider giving it a nod of thanks. Much like the engineers fixing sanitation all over the world, it’s a lifesaver.”

More information

Engineering for International Development
The Faculty of Engineering runs a number of international developmental projects across Latin America and the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia:

Geothermal energy production in Cornwall- Is it viable?

Today marks the start of drilling for what may become the first deep geothermal power plant in the UK. Falmouth based firm Geothermal Engineering are drilling two wells, 2.8 miles (4.5km) and 1.5 miles (2.5km), into granite near Redruth, Cornwall.

Cold water will be pumped down to the hot rocks where the temperature is up to 200C (390F). Hot water will be brought to the surface. Steam from the heated water will drive turbines producing electricity. If this pilot project is successful it could pave the way for similar power production in the UK.

Professor Joe Quarini from the department of Mechanical Engineering shared his thoughts on the project:

Professor Joe Quarini talks to Jon Kay from the BBC

“This is a good and exciting project from an engineering perspective. Not only will it bring jobs and expertise to Cornwall, but we’re going to learn a lot about engineering as the work progresses. We’ve seen similar, but ‘easier’ projects work successfully in New Zealand, Iceland and Italy. There are some technical questions that will be answered during this pilot, like, whether there are significant fouling issues associated with leaching out soluble minerals from the underground structures, what proportion of the water pumped into the ground actually comes back and whether and at what rate the heat deposits are depleted.

The answer to these questions will dictate the long-term viability of geothermal energy production in the UK. Cornwall is unique, it has heat-producing granite rocks with the highest energy density in the UK. In terms of absolute sums, electrical power production from geothermal is likely to be a small proportion of the Nation’s needs; it best location will be Cornwall. That said, Engineering is a global discipline, so it’s great for our young engineers to get the opportunity to see projects like this in action. We know that young people are really interested in green energy and sustainability so hopefully this will get more young people interested in Engineering as a subject.

Whilst the project excites me in terms of Engineering, I’m less confident about the long-term economic viability of geothermal energy in the UK. When the engineering costs are accounted for, geothermal energy isn’t the cheapest source of power, but if we’re serious about decarbonising our economy then it’s a choice that we, as a society, can make. That’s where funders like the EU and the Government come in to help subsidise projects like this one. My worry is that when those sources of funding aren’t available this won’t be a very attractive prospect to private investors. I’d love to be proved wrong on this though!”

Hear Joe in conversation on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme at 1:21

Nine ways our engineers are building a greener world

It’s Green Britain Week this week. While debate rages between environmental campaigners and those wandering the corridors of power, engineers are ever pragmatic and practical. Our researchers are working on a range of technological advances that will reduce the carbon in our atmosphere.

Here’s nine of our projects:

  1. Wind power: Harnessing wind power will be a key component of a greener energy mix. In partnership with Offshore Renewable Energy, the Wind Blade Research Hub is pushing the boundaries of current technology to produce a 13MW turbine. They are working on blades that will be 100m long, requiring new designs, materials and manufacturing processes. The world-leading expertise of the Bristol Composites Institute (ACCIS) is crucial in delivering this and other sustainable structures.
  2. Offshore wind and tidal lagoons: In another initiative to tap into the UK’s potential for offshore wind and tidal energy, a proposed tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay could provide electricity for more than 155,000 homes. It will take a solution that is affordable and scaleable to turn this idea into a reality. Researchers from Bristol and Plymouth Universities are part of a project to design and develop a prototype.
  3. Solar Cells: Solar energy is getting ever-more affordable. A £2 million grant from the EPSRC has funded work to develop new low-cost photo-voltaic materials. Researchers from the Bristol Electrochemistry Group’s PV Team are looking to replace elements such as gallium, indium, cadmium and tellurium which are rare, expensive to extract and toxic.
  4. Electric Vehicles: The move away from petrol/diesel and towards low carbon hybrid/fully electric vehicles depends on the availability of compact, highly efficient engines. The Electrical Energy Management Group are innovating and testing solutions. Their industrial collaboration on high performance electro-mechanical drives is important for the traction, steering and road handling of the cars of the future.
  5. Energy Storage: If the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, how can we store all that free energy? This question is being addressed by researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Surrey as part of self-funded company Superdielectrics Ltd. They have discovered new hydrophilic materials, like those used in contact lenses, that could rival the storage capacity of traditional batteries and charge much faster. Rolls-Royce recently signed a collaboration agreement with Superdielectrics, highlighting the keenness of industry to find new solutions.
  6. Microgrids: Ditching fossil fuels and halting deforestation can’t happen unless there’s a sustainable energy alternative. It’s estimated that 1.2bn people across the world don’t have access to electricity. By working with NGOs, local authorities and residents in rural areas, researchers from the Electrical Energy Management Group are designing a micro-grid system, intended for remote communities. It could generate enough power for 250 homes, using wind, solar and micro-hydro energy. A scaleable modular design means extra units can be added as and when.
  7. Water management: Climate change is having an impact on our water cycle with flood patterns already changing. The way we manage water resources will be increasingly key to mitigate natural disasters and provide clean drinking water to a growing population. The Water and Environmental Engineering group brings together engineers and scientists, taking a multi-disciplinary approach to the complex issues raised through modelling, measuring and prediction.
  8. Nuclear: Although controversial, nuclear energy will be part of the low carbon energy picture for the foreseeable future. The South West Nuclear Hub brings together academics from numerous disciplines. Their research ensures that nuclear systems are safe, reliable and efficient. Also focusing on safety, the department of Civil Engineering has been exploring the seismic integrity of nuclear reactors using the University’s impressive earthquake shaking table. The Plex project was one of the most complex shaking table experiments ever attempted anywhere in the world.
  9. Efficient Aircraft: Aviation is a major contributor to global CO2 emissions, burning more fossil fuels per passenger than any other form of transport. The Advanced Simulation and Modelling of Virtual Systems (ASiMoV) partnership aims to produce a jet engine simulation so accurate that designs can be signed off by the civil aviation authorities pre-production. It is hoped that by modelling the physical effects of thermo-mechanics, electromagnetics and computational fluid dynamics, more cost effective and energy-efficient engines will get off the ground.