Greenhouse gas removal

Last year the Royal Academy of Engineering and The Royal Society were asked by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to consider science and engineering views on greenhouse gas removal (GGR). On 12 September we published a report which presents an ambitious plan for how the UK can lead the way in deploying GGR methods to avoid the devastating impacts of climate change.

The report considers a range of technologies from well-known and ready to deploy methods, such as forestation, to more speculative technologies like direct air capture with carbon storage, which aims to use chemical processes to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. We evaluated their real-world removal potential while considering the environmental risks, social perception and scalability. The report considers how a suite of these GGR technologies, together with rapid cuts in emissions, could allow the UK reach net-zero emissions by 2050. We call for action in a number of key areas in order to enable GGR technologies to be able to meet the overall goals of the Paris Agreement. It is the first time that a range of GGR technologies have been assessed for their potential in being used together to meet climate goals in the UK over the next 30 years.

The report also considers the global picture and outlines a scenario in which a portfolio of GGR technologies can be implemented together to achieve carbon removal across the world by 2100 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Biological solutions like planting trees will become saturated by the end of the century and other GGR technologies will need to be developed and used in the longer term. In both scenarios engineering solutions involving carbon capture and storage will be vital.

Greenhouse gas removal (7.75 MB)

Summary report (1.14 MB)

Shale gas

The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering are undertaking a statistical (bibliometric) assessment of the quantity of published, peer-reviewed research in the field of shale gas extraction between 2012 and 2018. This study is not a review of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2012 report on shale gas extraction.

The project will focus on the amount of research carried out in the following areas:

  • Resource estimation
  • Fracturing fluid: composition, treatment, storage, and disposal
  • Methane leakage and groundwater contamination
  • Seismic monitoring
  • Public perception and understanding
  • Governance and regulation

The study will identify the extent to which research in these topic areas has been carried out since 2012.

The Steering Group convened a workshop in October to consider and sense check the initial results from the bibliometric analysis of research and views were sought from a wide range of individuals from academia, industry, government, regulators and NGOs.

Our findings will be published in early 2020.

Living without electricity

On 5 December 2015, Storm Desmond caused unprecedented flooding in north Lancashire and Cumbria. In Lancaster, the main electricity sub-station was flooded, cutting electricity supply to 61,000 properties. The loss of power quickly affected many other services that we all take for granted including mobile phones, internet and cash machines. The impacts of the loss of power were the subject of a workshop convened by Lancaster University, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the IET. This report is a summary of that workshop and a consideration of what lessons could be learned from the city’s experience.

Living without electricity (4.06 MB)

Sustainability of liquid biofuels

The Academy has conducted a study on the sustainability of liquid biofuels in UK transport. This was undertaken at the request of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) (now the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and the Department for Transport (DfT), which both funded the study.

The study conducted an in-depth review the evidence and underlying methodologies for the quantification of the carbon footprints of biofuels. It also reviewed wider sustainability issues such as food security, rural development and social impacts.

The main conclusion is that biofuels can and should play an increased role in decarbonising UK transport, however a risk-based approach to policy is needed to avoid incentivising biofuels that do not meet the carbon savings required. Stronger accreditation schemes are also needed in biofuels, but also across all land-based supply chains, to safeguard against negative social and economic impacts.

Sustainability of liquid biofuels (8.00 MB)

Built for living

Built for living: understanding behaviour and the built environment through engineering and design, was published in July 2015 by the Academy with Arup and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It follows three workshops held at RIBA, Arup and the Academy that explored the relationships between design, engineering and human behaviour. Three areas where the interplay between people and the built environment is key were explored:

  • The use of resources, particularly energy and water, and the production of waste
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Productivity and performance

The report presents case study examples and a set of design principles to help stakeholders consider key behavioural issues when designing and engineering the built environment. Recommendations are made to built environment stakeholders, research funding bodies and policymakers. In particular, the report recommends that built environment policies take account of behavioural issues, and emphasises the need for an integrated policy approach that considers interdependencies between different interventions.

Built for living: understanding behaviour and the built environment through engineering and design (3.48 MB)

Future cities

In 2014, the Academy held a workshop exploring how cities function as a system of interdependent sectors and stakeholders. An online interactive tool explains this system and three case studies show examples of different organisations innovating together in partnership to enact change.

Navigating the city’s ecosystem of organisations

Transport congestion

Transport congestion is the subject of the Academy’s first ‘challenge paper’, a discussion document authored by expert Fellows with the aim of stimulating debate on an issue of national concern.

The paper addresses the growing problem of congestion on the UK’s road and rail networks and assesses the technical practicality of various measures to get more out of them, either to buy time before new infrastructure can be delivered or as the most effective means optimising existing capacity.

It recommends that government should develop an integrated strategy for tackling road and rail congestion and that such a strategy must maximise the impact of any measure by carefully packaging different technologies and policy measures together. It also finds that, of all the available interventions considered, efficient pricing on the road network offers the single best way of tackling congestion. The paper recognises that this is not currently popular with either politicians or the public, but that a well-designed system could attract popular support and achieve substantial reduction in levels of congestion. 

The Transport Congestion Challenge (5.25 MB)

A critical time for UK energy policy

This study, the latest undertaken at the request of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, considers the future of the energy system of the UK and how it can deliver against the so-called energy ‘trilemma’ — the need for a system that is secure and affordable as well as low carbon. The main conclusion is that there remain serious risks in the delivery of the optimal energy system for the UK. Government is advised, as a matter of urgency to:

  • Undertake local or regional whole-system, large-scale pilot projects to establish real-world examples of how the future system will work
  • Drive forward new capacity in nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and offshore wind
  • Develop policies to accelerate demand reduction
  • Clarify and stabilise market mechanisms and incentives

A critical time for UK energy policy (504.06 KB)

Counting the cost

Following on from the 2013 report on the GB electricity capacity margin, the Academy was invited by the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology (CST) to undertake research into the economic and social costs and impacts that would result from shortfalls in electricity supply, within specific sectors and across the UK economy as a whole. The report, Counting the cost, assesses the available evidence base on the potential costs of electricity shortfalls. This is important in order to help policymakers understand the cost/benefit trade-off from investing in greater levels of capacity or resilience to disruption.

Counting the cost (581.35 KB)

Wind energy

With wind energy set to play an expanding role in the UK’s energy system, the Academy has carried out a study on the implications of large-scale deployment of wind energy on the UK electricity system. The report, published in 2014, concentrated mainly on the engineering implications of wind energy from design, operation and integration into the national grid system. In addition to the engineering issues, costs and carbon emissions are also considered as the UK tries to move towards solving the ‘trilemma’ of secure, affordable and low-carbon energy. The study considered a medium timeframe up to 2030.

Wind Energy: implications of large-scale deployment on the GB electricity system (2.72 MB)

Made for the future

We all carry our own carbon footprint: from our car journeys to heating our homes, everyday life has an impact on energy and material resources. While individuals have responsibility for minimising our use of energy and resources, engineers have a significant role in designing domestic technologies to achieve greater efficiency and less waste. This study, which was published in 2013,  looked at the whole lifecycle of domestic technologies, examining the role of engineering innovation in each step.

Made for the future: challenges in creating a sustainable domestic supply chain (1.05 MB)

GB electricity capacity margin

In 2013, a study was undertaken at the request of the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology (CST) to explore whether the capacity margin of the GB electricity system could reach unacceptably low levels within this decade.

GB electricity capacity margin: A report by the Royal Academy of Engineering for the Council for Science and Technolog (399.24 KB)

Future ship powering options

A study, published in 2013, explored current and potential future marine propulsion systems, measuring them against the twin but related objectives of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. The report followed a working party of more than 20 eminent engineering experts, led by Professor John Carlton FREng, Professor of Marine Engineering at City University London. Options investigated included greater use of LNG (liquefied natural gas) in current power units, battery and alternative fuel technologies, and nuclear-powered ships. No single or simple answer was identified that will meet every need or that can be applied to every type of vessel. Instead, further work is needed to adapt current technologies from the maritime industries and elsewhere to broader application in different types of ship and to research and develop innovative technologies specifically for maritime propulsion.

Future ship powering options: Exploring alternative methods of ship propulsion (5.79 MB)

Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles hold the promise, if widely adopted, of drastically reducing carbon emissions from surface transport and could, therefore, form a major plank in the UK’s efforts to meet the binding emissions reduction targets enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act. This report, published in 2010, considers the implications of electric vehicles becoming mainstream by 2050.

Electric vehicles: charged with potential (1.87 MB)

Heat: degrees of comfort

A study, published in 2012, considered the future of provision and use of heat in the UK economy out to 2050. If the UK is to meet legally binding carbon emissions targets in the future, the way we both use and produce heat will have to change radically in the next 40 years - but what technologies will become dominant and what will be the impact on the average UK householder?

Heat: degrees of comfort (1.13 MB)

Decommissoning in the North Sea

A workshop was held to discuss the decommissioning of oil and gas platforms in the North Sea.

Decommissioning in the North Sea (1.21 MB)