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. Read about Imperial research into cleaner, greener plastics on Imperial Stories.

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

Air travel

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.

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.

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.

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. Read an interview with Professor Titirici on 'Graphite and battery research on the road to net zeroin Innovation News.

Travel behaviour

Mobility hub

Imperial is partnering with Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Brompton Bikes on a pilot mobility hub designed to empower greater choice in urban transport, you can find out more about the pilot on our Mobility Hub pages.

Behaviour change

Imperial’s Behaviour Change in Energy and Environment Policy Network (BEEP) contributes to knowledge on evidence, methodologies and solutions by connecting and sharing efforts on behaviour change, energy, and environmental policy at Imperial. The UK has ambitious targets for shifting to electric vehicles (EVs) but considerable uncertainty exists around actual future rates of adoption. Reducing car ownership, dependency and use through modal shift to public transport, walking and cycling will also be an important part of solutions and offers the greatest co-benefits for air quality, congestion, more active and healthy lifestyles, and safer, stronger communities. Dr Aruna Sivakumar from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is looking at behaviour in transport systems through short and long-term travel demand modelling, travel behaviour analysis, electric mobility demand, and electric vehicle-to-grid integration.

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.

InFUSE EPSRC Prosperity Partnership to help energy systems transition to net zero pollution by 2050

Imperial, Shell and Diamond Light Source will launch an EPSRC-funded Programme, InFUSE, on materials and processes for the energy transition in summer 2021. The EPSRC Prosperity Partnership will examine how technologies like batteries, electric vehicles, chemical production, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be improved by understanding interfaces in these systems, enhancing sustainability and enabling a transition to a green economy.

The partnership will involve collaborative research across the College, including the Departments of Materials, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Earth Science and Engineering and Chemistry. It will form part of the Transition to Zero Pollution initiative, contributing to the initiative aims to inspire fundamental changes in areas such as the way materials are used in manufacturing and how we produce food and energy. The programme will also fund more than 20 new PhD studentships at Imperial, creating interdisciplinary cohorts working together towards the energy transition. Read the news article about the project.