View of a factory tower from belowResearchers at Imperial will use their world-leading expertise in engineering and physical sciences to develop new technologies to help deliver a zero pollution future. From designing electric aircraft, making batteries more sustainable and designing transport systems of the future to working towards eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.

Making plastics more sustainable

Plastic pollution is causing problems across the world and solving this challenge requires researchers from many disciplines - engineers, chemists, environmental science and policy, social science, and business models. Researchers across Imperial are working on solutions to plastic pollution from developing roadmaps for how the UK can prevent waste plastics from entering the environment to working together in the cross-Faculty Ocean Plastic Solutions Network.

Imperial's Institute for Molecular Science and Engineering (IMSE) has produced a briefing paper on the importance of molecular science for more sustainable plastics entitled 'Enabling a greener plastic future through molecular science'. You can watch the briefing paper launch event on IMSE's YouTube channel along with their Greener Plastic Futures webinar series.

Reducing transport pollution

Why is it so important to take a holistic view when tackling pollution? Take the example of electric vehicles, whilst the switch to electric vehicles will lower CO2 and exhaust emissions there are still issues of pollution from tyres and brakes. When it comes to batteries for these vehicles we need to make sure that these are sustainable and take into account the social and environmental issues caused by mining for the critical materials needed in current batteries. Batteries need to be efficient and built taking into account the whole chain, from raw materials to smart manufacturing to use and recycling. Not to mention the car itself, tyres should be made from recycled tyres, the car body from plant-derived carbon fibres and it should be easy to repair, upgrade, recycle, compost parts that make up the whole vehicle.

Read the examples below to find out about some of the research going on across Imperial to reduce pollution from transport.

Reducing transport pollution projects

Electric aircraft initiative

While there are currently no zero-pollution technologies available across the whole aviation system, electric propulsion offers a pathway towards the integration of alternative energy sources (e.g. batteries or hydrogen power) in ever larger, and fundamentally different, air vehicles. Imperial College researchers working on related activities, from heat management systems to vehicle design optimization, have come together to seek collaborative actions aiming to enable electric propulsion on a new generation of vehicles. The initiative is led by Professor Rafael Palacios in the Department of Aeronautics who is also leading research on predicting the dynamic behaviour of solar-powered aircraft.

Electric Mobility

A transition to electric transport has the potential to radically change our every day lives, reducing air pollution and the consumption of fossil fuels. The benefits are clear, but it will take a joined up approach to make it a sustainable reality.

To find out more about the research taking place across College to tackle this issue, as well as the challenges our researchers face, check out this Imperial long read article.

Reducing climate change linked to aircraft contrails

While new forms of air travel are being developed, Dr Marc Stettler’s research in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Centre for Transport Studies has shown that changing the altitudes of less than two per cent of flights could reduce contrail-linked climate change by 59 per cent.

Sustainable energy storage technologies

The research being carried out in Professor Magda Titirici’s team in the Department of Chemical Engineering is an example of work going on at Imperial into sustainable energy storage technologies. Professor Titirici was recently awarded a RAEng Chair in Emerging Technologies to develop sustainable future energy technologies, particularly new kinds of batteries to replace Lithium, clean and low-cost production of Hydrogen from biomass or plastic waste and its use in fuel cells free from precious metals. These technologies will enable more use of renewable energy in future, from grid-balancing for intermittent energy supply to producing customized compostable electronics.

The Tyre Collective

Researchers and students at Imperial are investigating ways to reduce the pollution from vehicle tyres, both the air pollution caused from the friction on the tyres from driving on the road and from waste tyres. A group of Imperial students, The Tyre Collective, have invented a device to collect tyre particles from vehicles, a major contributor to the world’s air pollution. The Tyre Collective is made up students from the Innovation Design Engineering MSc programme, offered jointly by Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art: Siobhan Anderson, Hanson Cheng, M Deepak Mallya, and Hugo Richardson. The team is supervised by Professor Robert Shorten in the Dyson School of Design Engineering. You can read more about their work in this Imperial news article.

The Tyre Collective have also been named the winners of the James Dyson National Award 2020, and are going forward to the international stage of the competition.

Reaching net zero

In 2019, the UK government committed to reaching net zero emissions - that is, when the amount of CO2 emissions produced by a country equals the amount being taken out of the atmosphere - by 2050. This is a very ambitious target, but one we must reach if we are to avoid widespread climate breakdown.

Imperial researchers are at the forefront of designing the new technology and methods necessary to meet this goal; from innovative carbon capture methods to helping companies successfully transition to less emission heavy methods.

Find out more about the work being done at Imperial to reach net zero.