Research challenges



A secure, sustainable, clean and affordable energy supply is vital for economic growth, prosperity and global development.

Energy is the lifeblood of civilization. It ensures our health and well-being, provides heat and light to our homes and places of work and enables travel, food production, and the manufacture the products we need. And yet our use of energy has created one of our greatest challenges – global climate change; but energy research provides the solutions.

Research is vital to reduce energy demand, to increase energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport, to develop new, affordable and low-carbon energy technologies, and to ensure a smooth transition to a future, decarbonised energy system.

Loughborough's contribution

Energy Research at Loughborough is world-class and one of the largest concentrations of academic endeavor in the UK.

Work spans the generation, supply and demand for energy and includes: the invention and improvement of new and renewable energy technologies; the efficient and flexible generation of power; nuclear energy and waste; electrical and thermal energy storage; the efficiency of conventional transport systems; transport and travel; and end-use energy demand in buildings and for travel.

Work is often applied and multi-disciplinary drawing together scientists, engineers, social scientists and economists of international repute to address contemporary Energy Research Challenges.

Theoretical and fundamental work is advanced via extensive and expanding laboratory and field test facilities, and through collaboration with internationally leading research groups, industrial sponsors and other stakeholders.

Our energy research brings technical, social and economic benefits.

Energy Generation

New and Renewable Energy Technologies

Research at Loughborough is pioneering the development of new approaches to renewable energy generation to provide substantial, affordable, durable and environmentally benign energy options for present and future generations.

Our work covers a range of technical applications, especially the next generation solar photovoltaic cells, wind power, grid connection and integration, and energy storage of heat, power and hydrogen. Our spacious campus enables us to operate a range of experimental and full-scale renewable energy testing facilities.

Materials research is developing new photovoltaic films and is supported by mathematical modelling of their nano-scale composition. The new photovoltaic laboratory is one of the largest of its kind in the UK.

Fuel cell research, especially for use in vehicles, is a particular strength and has led to the major spin-out company Intelligent Energy. Other new systems being explored include the creation of bioenergy, prospects for anaerobic digestion, and the electrochemical and thermochemical generation of fuels, e.g. by electrolysis of water using solar energy.

Loughborough leads the UK Supersolar Energy consortium and is member of the UK Wind Energy Supergen consortium and the European Renewable Energy Centres Agency.

Cleaner Fossil Fuel Generation

Loughborough is a leading institution in research into cleaner fossil fuel generation and aspects of carbon capture and storage. We are driving ground-breaking developments in high temperature materials and technologies for the coal-based power plants of the future.

We led the UK Supergen consortium concerned with the lifetime extension of conventional power and now leads the UK Future Power Plant ‘Flex-E-Plant’ consortium.

Many fossil fired power plant design codes were conservative, providing opportunities to develop life prediction methodologies, and new tools and techniques to reduce maintenance costs and increase plant flexibility, for example, by co-firing with waste and biomass, to enable more cyclic operation and increase plant efficiency and reduce emissions.

Loughborough is a founding partner of the UK Efficient Energy Technologies Engineering Doctorate Centre and leads the Grand Challenge Chemical Fuels Cluster that is examining carbon capture and utilisation in the green economy.

Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Waste Management

Loughborough University is leading the way in environmental chemodynamics and in groundwater and surface water chemistry. This work is centred on the geochemistry of nuclear waste disposal which, by necessity, requires an interdisciplinary approach to solve this world-wide problem.

An extensive modelling activity aims to further develop our understanding of waste encapsulation technologies and the performance of materials used in nuclear reactor systems, whilst experimental studies examine the stability and degradation of metallic materials used in reactors.

Loughborough is a partner in the national project examining the decommissioning, immobilisation and storage of nuclear waste and is explore optimum ways of cleaning the storage and cooling water. A fully-licensed laboratory enables experiments with open sources of radioactivity.

Energy Systems

Energy Storage

Energy storage is one strategy for matching supply and demand in future UK energy system in which there is increased reliance on intermittent generators.

Storage at the urban, local and building scale enables better utilization of new forms of heat and electricity generation such as heat pumps and fuels cells. Storage enables demand management and load shifting and so cost reduction to generators and energy users.

Our research considers the overall energy system and magnitude and timing of energy use in homes, businesses and industry. Fundamental materials and electrochemical research is developing cheaper and more efficient storage systems for the management of heat and electricity.

Loughborough is a founding partner in the UK Interdisciplinary Centre for the Storage, Transformation and Upgrading of Thermal Energy.

Advanced Propulsion Systems

Loughborough is the leading UK University for engine systems research. Work with leading industry players, such as Rolls Royce, Caterpillar and BAE systems, is developing and improving internal combustion engines and propulsion technologies for applications across the automotive, aerospace, marine and power generation sectors. Research encompasses efficiency, emissions, durability, performance, and systems performance.

Fuel cell development is a particular strength which has led to the world leading spinout company Intelligent Energy.

Loughborough has excellent optical diagnostics and modelling laboratories for the study of many thermofluid problems, and hosts an internal combustion engine powertrain laboratory with eight engine test cells, emissions analysers, steady-state and fully transient dynamometers, multi-cylinder and optically accessed engines.

Loughborough is home to the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre in Combustion Aerodynamics and has won Queens Anniversary prizes for its work with industry in the fields of optical engineering and for collaboration with the aerospace and automotive industries.

Design, Social Policy and Economics

Future energy systems will be nothing like those of the past. Energy will be more expensive and energy users will be key players in the diversified and dynamic energy system. Political, economic, social and individual factors will shape interactions between supply and demand, and determine the acceptance of, and transition to, our energy future. An understanding of these factors is essential to the success of technological developments and demand reduction initiatives.

Research at Loughborough considers matters such as: the design and manufacturing of new products for a low carbon market; life cycle analysis; home energy management technologies; behaviour change; fuel poverty and income standards; and energy policy and economics.

Energy provision and governance in emerging nations is an interest, with the University currently chairing the UK ‘Low Carbon Energy for Development Network’.

Social science, design, and economics research at Loughborough is internationally leading. The University was awarded the Queens Anniversary prize for its outstanding work in evaluating and helping develop social policy-related programmes.

Energy Demand

Transport and Travel

Travel is responsible for about ¼ of UK carbon emissions. Loughborough’s research examines both the technical and human barriers to improved transport efficiency, vehicle management and travel demand reduction.

We are developing new technologies for alternative fuel vehicles, especially using bio-fuels, fuel cells and electric engines. In the aerospace industry we are developing and applying new technologies to create more aerodynamic forms.

Our understanding of air travel demand is being enhanced and transport demand management tools, such as parking and road user charging are being devised and tested. This is complemented by our cutting-edge work on discrete choice modelling, innovation theory and marketing techniques to help us better understand, not only the technologies that could reduce our energy consumption, but also how people make travel choices.

Much of the work is conducted in collaboration with major industry players such as airports (Heathrow, Manchester), airlines (e.g. British Airways) and local authorities (Leicestershire County Council, Birmingham City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester).

Energy Demand and Buildings

Loughborough is home to world-leading research on design, measurement and modelling in pursuit of a low-carbon built environment. Transdisciplinary teams, combine laboratory and field measurement, high powered computing capability and socio-technical research, to enable holistic appraisals of energy demand and demand reduction techniques.

Housing research encompasses the characterisation of energy demand in housing, from the individual building to the national stock. Large-scale surveys and modelling enable the likely effects of climate change and new energy systems on aggregated stock demands to be predicted.

The design of innovative, naturally ventilated, public buildings in concert with world-leading architects is a particular strength. This has produced iconic, award-winning buildings and led to new heating, cooling, ventilation and daylighting strategies.

Extensive laboratory and full-size test facilities enable the characterisation of new building materials and glazing systems, and the study of heat transfer and human thermal comfort. Full-scale testing of buildings with real or simulated occupancy enables real-world performance assessments.

Loughborough hosts the UK Centre of Doctoral Research in Energy Demand, and has the greatest concentration of Digital Innovation for Energy Demand Reduction projects in the UK. Work informs stakeholders in central, regional and local government and creates new products and services for our industry partners and product manufacturers.

This challenge links with our research across our other thematic priorities, particularly in our multi-disciplinary approaches to focusing on the needs of designing, constructing, securing, managing and maintaining the sustainable infrastructure of the future. Please see the Secure and Resilient Societies and Changing Environments and Infrastructure challenges for more details.