Engineering the world’s sustainable future in Nottingham: World Engineering Day 2023 March 4
Researchers in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham are shining a spotlight on projects that will unlock a net zero world, as part of World Engineering Day 2023.
With the theme “Engineering innovation for a more resilient world”, World Engineering Day (WED) is an opportunity to celebrate engineering and the contribution engineers and architects make to create a better, sustainable world.
Committed to aligning with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the University of Nottingham works with businesses and other institutions to turn ambitious ideas into reality across a series of research areas:
- Sustainable energy
- Sustainable cities and environment
- Sustainable transport and mobility
- Advanced healthcare technologies and wellbeing
- Advanced manufacturing and materials
Revolutionising the way we detect and treat diseases through quantum technology
Statistics are showing an increase in chronic diseases. For example, the number of people being admitted to hospital for COPD or asthma has risen by 59.1% in England and Wales between 1999 and 2020 according to Alwafi, H., Naser, A.Y., Ashoor, D.S. et al.
Research led by Professor Melissa Mather hopes to turn science fiction into reality by using the latest in quantum sensing technology to make breakthroughs in medical research. By improving detection of free radicals, unstable molecules that can cause damage to our cells if there are too many, medical professionals will be able to better understand the effect on patients’ health and develop new treatments.
She said: “This research is offering hope to people suffering with serious medical conditions. We’ve created special sensors made from diamonds, which are often a million times better than traditional sensors and can detect tiny signals in the body. Quantum technology is the future, but it might feel a long way from many people’s reality, so I’d encourage everyone to take an interest and be curious.”
Addressing the issues of fuel poverty by harnessing heat waste
According to the London Energy Transformation Initiative, residential buildings represent 22% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. By developing transformational energy storage, it’s possible to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and minimise carbon emissions in UK communities.
An ongoing project is looking to identify the most effective material to store heat for later use and develop a novel, low-carbon energy storage system, which will supply cheap, on-demand heat for people living and working across the country – simultaneously addressing the issues of fuel poverty, pollution and decarbonisation.
Professor Jo Darkwa, Professor of Energy Storage Technologies, said: “Green urban design is a collective effort, so local authorities, industry sector and society have an important role to play. By using thermochemical energy storage technology, we can store and reuse waste heat, helping cities become greener and cleaner.”
Reducing carbon emissions for a sustainable transport system
Making transport systems more sustainable is a key component in achieving net zero. Working in the nexus of the built environment, energy, people, and transport, the university’s research is focused on enhancing active and sustainable mobility and reducing carbon emissions.
Exemplar research includes the EV-elocity project – which investigated how bidirectional charge points can improve battery life in electric vehicles and cut carbon and charging costs. Results found that electric vehicle charging optimisation can cut carbon emissions by nearly half a tonne and save up to £400 per vehicle each year.
Professor Lucelia Rodrigues, Professor of Sustainable and Resilient Cities, said: “Our research is looking to reduce the need for energy and fuel-powered mobility so it becomes feasible to electrify systems and make the most of renewable energy. However, our sustainability targets will only be achieved through a collective effort and each one of us can make a difference. By understanding our own carbon footprint and taking ownership of the problem, we can make informed choices and take actions to reduce our impact on the planet.”
Transforming the capabilities of 3D printing, from manufacture to medical and beyond
3D printing is currently limited to single material structures, despite brimming with possibilities for manufacturers, preventing industry from benefitting from its full potential to make complex, multi-material products, which can be more efficient and reduce waste.
The university is looking to usher in the next generation of 3D printing, with several projects ongoing, including a recent funding injection of more than six million pounds to develop a toolkit that will allow 3D printed medicines to be manufactured, effectively bringing innovations like biological personalised pills or ‘living plasters’ closer to reality.
Professor Richard Hague, Professor of Additive Manufacturing, said: “While the materials and processes don’t currently exist for multi-material printing across different sectors, the possibilities of 3D printing are almost unlimited, therefore people should be aware that it is on the rise. There are going to be many exciting advancements to come as we continue our research.”
Removing carbon from the atmosphere using biochar
To achieve net zero carbon, strategies to remove greenhouse gases are needed, and engineering research into biochar is of critical importance to this agenda.
Biochar, a carbon-rich and chemically stable charcoal-like substance, has historically been sold as mulch for horticulture. Now, the university is leading the world’s largest trial to evaluate the viability of biochar to store carbon from the atmosphere to counter the impact of climate change.
Dr Will Meredith, Associate Professor, said: “Our research is helping to understand the stability of biochar and develop tools to measure it for carbon accounting. We’re also looking at how waste materials can be used for biochar production as opposed to virgin wood, which all goes towards supporting the carbon neutral agenda. By embracing greenhouse gas reduction, we can address the ultimate challenge of climate change.”
Professor Chris Tuck, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange in the Faculty of Engineering, said: “World Engineering Day is all about celebrating the incredible contributions engineers and architects across the world are making, but it’s also a day to examine what more we can be doing to ensure a net zero future is achieved, and we believe engineering research sits at the heart of that.
“We’re proud to be training and developing the brightest engineers and architects to undertake multi-disciplinary research projects that are creating pioneering solutions to issues on a global scale, helping to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.”
For more information about the Faculty of Engineering’s World Engineering Day campaign, please visit: www.nottingham.ac.uk/engineering/research