Research into corrosion, nuclear management and advanced propulsion systems receive a funding boost from new research-business partnership scheme.
The £138 million pound investment, announced by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), seeks to strengthen the links between the UK's research base, industry and business partners.
Universities are becoming the hubs of modern production, and we need companies on board at the ground level to make the most of our innovations.
– Professor Nicholas Harrison
The new grants will support research programmes that involve established UK businesses, such as Rolls-Royce and BP. Traditionally, research councils have funded pure research, while Innovate UK has helped in the translation of that research so that it can be used by industry. This Prosperity Partnerships scheme aims to streamline this process.
Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, said: “A central part of our Industrial Strategy is boosting the economic impact of our world-class research base by supporting the flow of innovative ideas and techniques from concept to market-place.
“This investment will ensure the work of our universities continues to have positive impact around the world and maintain the UK's global leadership in science and innovation.”
Combating corrosion in demanding environments
Professor Nicholas Harrison, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, is part of a partnership project with BP, and the Universities of Manchester, Cambridge, Leeds and Edinburgh, who already work together on corrosion research through the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials (BP-ICAM).
Many industry assets are susceptible to surface corrosion, from tools and machinery to oil pipes, platforms and refineries. This is especially true when they are exposed to the demanding environments encountered in the oil and gas sector. The new £5m programme aims to decipher the fundamental mechanisms that cause corrosion so they can be better combated in the future.
Professor Harrison, who is co-director of Imperial’s Institute for Molecular Science and Engineering, said: “This new approach to research grants allows us to do fundamental science with industry involved from conception to solution; we hope that this will extract much more value from our research. Universities are becoming the hubs of modern production, and we need companies on board at the ground level to make the most of our innovations.”
Advancing aircraft engines with extreme power
Professor Norbert Hoffmann, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, joins a £12m project led by the University of Nottingham and Rolls-Royce that aims to improve advanced aircraft engines. The project will look at mechanical integrity in engines under extreme power levels.
The team hope to solve some important fundamental elements of mechanical engineering science that will underpin near-future (2025) aero propulsion systems, and lead to new possibilities likely to transform this machinery in the longer term.
The Imperial team on the grant are from the Rolls-Royce Vibration University Technology Centre, which has been running for 27 years. Professor Hoffman said: “We are probably the longest standing strategic university-industry research partnership of such intensity and scope, and the present grant is another proof that fundamental research leading to industrially relevant impact can be achieved in an appropriate setup.”
Making nuclear assets safer and more reliable
Professor Mark Girolami, from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial, is lending his expertise to a £4.4m project led by the University of Strathclyde and the engineering firm Babcock. The programme will develop advanced inspection techniques, biotechnology solutions for infrastructure repair, operational intelligence and data science and new products and processes for managing nuclear facilities and extending their lifetime.
Professor Girolami will be running the machine learning element of the programme, helping to make the most out of the data acquired. He said: “I’m delighted to be leading an element of the work that is developing statistical machine learning methodology for deployment in some of the areas of this Property Partnership that focus on safety critical operations."
The project also involves EDF Energy, Kinectrics Inc, Bruce Power, The Weir Group, BAM Nuttall, the University of Surrey, Cranfield University and the Alan Turing Institute.
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