Energy and environmental engineering
Energy and Environmental Engineering covers materials, processes, technologies and systems in support of a highly efficient and sustainable future. It is a branch of chemical engineering that seeks to efficiently use energy and to preserve and maintain the natural environment.
The theme addresses important global challenges such as energy and emissions management, energy and fuel provision, storage, transportation and environmentally and economically sustainable energy provision, clean water production and purification, and waste resource management and utilisation.
The aim of this research theme is to provide a sustainable future in line with net zero targets by delivering materials, methods, processes, technologies and systems that combine knowledge from across a variety of disciplines.
Specific research activities include clean fossil-fuel technologies, carbon capture and sub-surface processing of hydrocarbons, recovery of oil and gas, technologies and systems for waste heat recovery/harvesting, conventional and renewable power (e.g. solar), heating and cooling, energy integration and storage.
The research in this theme is being carried out by a broad combination of underpinning and overarching knowledge covering the application of fundamental principles of thermodynamics, fluid flows (including multiphase and reacting flows), transport phenomena (including heat and mass transfer), interfacial and molecular interaction phenomena, reactive and catalytic processes.
The theme’s research activities require the development and employment of advanced (e.g., optical, spectroscopic) measurement tools, techniques and methods; the formulation and manufacture of novel materials; the fabrication, assembly and practical testing of innovative concepts at various scales; and the development of integrated models, numerical methodologies and tools to predict and exploit complex, multi-scaled physical processes in engineering, environmental and industrial systems.
These methods are applied to achieve advances in each of the individual research activities highlighted above, but also are combined in cross-cutting activities in order to resolve cross/multidisciplinary and whole-system aspects related to the theme’s aims.
The majority of the research is carried out at the following research centres and institutions: Carbon Capture and Storage Research Network, Clean Fossil and Bioenergy Research Group, Energy Futures Lab, Grantham Institute and the Sustainable Gas Institute.
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Since 2010, Imperial has been carrying out a range of research activities in partnership with Sainsbury's to help the supermarket chain meet its target to reach net zero operational carbon emissions by 2040.
Imperial’s relationship with Sainsbury’s is multifaceted, spanning a number of Faculties and Institutes, with collaborative research addressing challenges related to the sustainable built environment, transport, agri-tech, supply chain decarbonisation and risk assessment.
Work on the built environment includes a project to help Sainsbury’s use heat recovery strategies to end its use of natural gas in shops. Future research will also focus increasingly on robust decarbonisation strategies to support cost-effective transitions towards Net Zero, covering the areas of energy, refrigerants, water, and transport. This research implies appraising innovative technologies and evaluates how best to integrate them with existing infrastructures and business operations for a successful transition.
For example, under the theme of logistics, Imperial is supporting Sainsbury’s reduce emissions in its heavy goods vehicles by providing expert impartial advice on how best to displace the use of fossil fuels and use instead electricity, hydrogen or biomethane.
The research is carried out by academics, researchers and postgraduate students in the Centre for Process Systems Engineering, Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, and other academic teams within the College.
Reducing emissions from supermarket fridges
One example project involved researchers evaluating how supermarkets can reduce emissions by using recovered heat from refrigerators to supply heat in stores.
In a paper published in Applied Energy, scientists analysed existing commercial refrigeration systems to evaluate which set up has the greatest potential for reducing emissions and primary energy usage, by using recovered heat to replace gas boilers.
The team compared results from five Refrigeration Integrated Heating and Cooling (RIHC) systems, each with slightly different modifications. The paper demonstrates for the first time in UK supermarkets that RIHC systems with a thermal storage unit are able to provide significant emissions reductions and have the potential to replace gas heating boiler systems.
The aim of the study was to understand the energy savings and emissions reduction that could be achieved by recovering the low-grade heat from commercial refrigeration systems that usually goes unutilised because it is released into the environment.
They found that an RIHC system with a thermal storage unit was the most effective, producing a reduction in supermarket emissions and energy consumption by 13% and 18% respectively. The team say that these systems have the potential to replace the gas heating boiler systems used for space heating and enable the displacement of fossil fuelled boilers without compromising business operations.
Dr Christos Markides, Professor in Clean Energy Processes, said: "It has been great working with Sainsbury’s as they implement our suggestions in real world scenarios."
Dr Salvador Acha, Imperial-Sainsbury’s Project Manager and Research Fellow in Low Carbon Energy Systems and Sustainable Transitions , added: “The partnership has been able to strike the right balance between commercial value and academic excellence while also nurturing the engineers of tomorrow.”
This is part of an Imperial news story.
Visit the Imperial-Sainsbury’s partnership website for more information.