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EPSRC: Adventurous Energy Research for a Sustainable Net Zero

Deadline 8th July 2021

Apply Online.

Apply for funding for high-risk decarbonisation research to develop or model:

  • materials
  • devices
  • fuels
  • technologies.

Mathematical, digital, artificial intelligence and software-based solutions are excluded.

Solutions must be sustainable beyond 2050 and compatible with a circular economy.

You must be a UK-based researcher employed by an eligible research organisation.

Holders of postdoctoral fellowships are not eligible to apply.

Projects must be for 24 months.

This is an outline stage. If you’re successful, we will invite you to interview.

Institutions may only submit a limited number of applications.

We are looking to fund feasibility projects:

  • of two years’ duration
  • aimed at high-risk discovery research to enable decarbonisation of the UK economy
  • to facilitate a sustainable transition to a net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions future.

For the current call, decarbonisation will be defined as the reduction or elimination of the net anthropogenic contribution to the atmospheric concentration of GHGs, in terms of total combined global warming potential (CO2 equivalents).

Contributions to decarbonisation may be made, for example by:

  • the reduction or elimination of the GHG-intensity of processes, materials, products and infrastructure
  • the removal of atmospheric GHGs
  • the demand reduction, encompassing both energy demand and demand for materials and products.

This definition is concerned with all atmospheric GHGs for which there is an anthropogenic source, including but not limited to:

  • carbon dioxide
  • methane
  • F gases, such as:
    • chlorofluorocarbons
    • hydrofluorocarbons
    • perfluorocarbons
    • sulphur hexafluoride
  • other haloalkanes
  • nitrous oxide.

Although there are many mature technologies and solutions that can be developed and deployed to move the UK closer to net-zero, the rationale for the current call is that there is potential to develop new solutions to reduce the time to a sustainable net-zero. Whilst also, improving that transition and ensuring that it provides a sustainable future for well beyond 2050.

We hope these projects will develop the science to provide disruptive solutions, which will allow:

  • a faster, better value, fairer and more sustainable transition to net-zero
  • a net negative GHG emissions scenario to be attained.

These projects could provide a fresh approach in areas of decarbonisation where there has been a lot of focus or provide the foundation for work on areas that are particularly difficult to decarbonise. It is hoped that this call will ultimately result in a portfolio of cutting-edge projects, each of which has demonstrated that an innovative, disruptive decarbonisation technology has the potential to deliver significant impact.

The funding available is for research grants.

The expectation is that because the projects funded by this call will be inherently high-risk in nature, some may be unsuccessful in demonstrating the feasibility of the decarbonisation solutions they propose. However, those that are successful will have the potential to deliver significant impact with regard to decarbonising the UK economy.

In those cases, it is expected that further funding, through either follow-on funding or through a standard mode application, would be necessary to move the work towards a more applied phase. Therefore, realise that potential impact.

Please note, however, that at present no commitment has been made to providing a follow-on funding mechanism to further support successful projects from the current call.


There exist technical solutions to many of the challenges facing efforts to deliver net-zero emissions. Some of these solutions need further development or incremental research to enhance them. We are not looking to fund that work in this call.

We are looking to fund projects to investigate possible radical disruptive solutions that can deliver a net-zero, or net-negative future that is:

  • more timely
  • better value
  • more comfortable
  • more sustainable than that made possible by existing approaches.

The proposed solutions should avoid creating further problems to be solved by future generations. Moreover, applicants should provide a reasoned assessment of the scale of decarbonisation or other benefits that may feasibly be enabled as a result of their proposed work. They must explain how this can be achieved within the context of a circular economy.

Applicants to this call should be excited about the project they submit and should actively embrace the opportunity to develop an ambitious, high-risk idea.

The case for support of any proposal submitted to this call should, in addition to describing the project and the methodology, include the following headings, each of which should address the questions listed beneath:

Adventurous aspects of the proposal

  • what makes the proposed work adventurous and high risk in nature?

Benefits of the proposed work

  • please describe, justify and, where appropriate, quantify the benefits of the proposed research. Examples of benefits that could feasibly be delivered if the project is successful include but are not limited to:
    • the scale of decarbonisation enable, nationally or internationally
    • improved value for money
    • other social and environmental benefits
  • what additional research and/or development will be required following successful completion of the project to deliver a deployable technology or solution?
  • what challenges will be addressed by the proposed work that are not addressed by existing approaches to decarbonisation?

Deployment within a circular context

  • how can your proposed decarbonisation technology or solution be deployed in a manner compatible with the context of circular economy?

Projects must be working to facilitate a transition to a net-zero GHG emissions scenario or beyond.

The scope of this call is limited to engineering and physical sciences-based solutions for:

  • decarbonising transport
  • heating and cooling
  • industry
  • agriculture
  • electricity generation.

Moreover, this call aims to enable the delivery of new:

  • technologies
  • materials
  • processes
  • systems.

These will have the potential to make a significant contribution to the decarbonisation of the UK economy, by funding high-risk research across a wide range of relevant disciplines.

Applications are welcomed from:

  • researchers working in the fundamental physical sciences who are looking to apply underpinning concepts to the development of scalable and sustainable energy technologies
  • established energy researchers aiming to deliver transformative solutions to the challenges associated with decarbonisation.

It is anticipated that applications to this call will be received from researchers working in a range of disciplines and research areas spanning engineering and the physical sciences.

However, whilst we recognise the importance of mathematical, digital, and artificial intelligence and software-based solutions, the focus of this call is on physical approaches and technologies for decarbonisation. Accordingly, proposals should be:

  • concerned with developing energy materials, devices, fuels and technologies, sustainable for 2050 and beyond
  • compatible with a circular economy.

Nonetheless, computational modelling undertaken for the purposes of developing such physical approaches to decarbonisation is considered in remit. It is anticipated that submissions to this call will have most relevance to the following themes of EPSRC:

  • energy
  • circular economy
  • engineering
  • manufacturing the future
  • physical sciences.

This call is not intended to fund research in:

  • the mathematical sciences
  • ICT
  • artificial intelligence or digital domains, with the exception of projects in which computational modelling is applied to the development and understanding of physical systems, technologies and materials.

A non-exhaustive list of example areas in which adventurous energy research aligned with the priorities of this call could take place is provided below, for illustrative purposes only:

  • bioinspired systems for energy conversion and storage
  • enabling science and technology for the valorisation of CO2 and creation of circular fuel economies
  • unconventional zero-carbon fuels and novel sustainable energy vectors
  • scalable energy storage technologies for medium-term and inter-seasonal applications
  • materials and physical technologies for more energy-efficient ICT and artificial intelligence
  • recyclable materials for energy applications, from low cost, abundant resources
  • disruptive technologies for waste, low-grade heat utilisation, for example via thermoelectric materials
  • disruptive designs for renewable energy converters
  • innovative scalable solutions to energy inefficiency in domestic building stock
  • transformative approaches to the sustainable manufacture, construction and recycling of renewable energy infrastructure.

The project must be in the remit of EPSRC with at least 50% of the proposed work falling within the energy and decarbonisation domain. Proposals that do not fall within EPSRC remit or are not sufficiently focused on the development of sustainable energy technologies will be rejected.

We do not intend to fund projects that could be described as:

  • incremental
  • low-risk or unadventurous
  • incompatible with deployment within a circular economy context.

Due to the speculative nature of these projects, we will not be expecting specific industrial collaboration to be included in the outline application. However, support from project partners is welcome and letters of support can be attached to the full proposal submission if appropriate.

Funding available

Up to £2 million of EPSRC funding will be available to fund individual projects. Individual projects may be up to £312,500 full economic cost, of which EPSRC will fund 80% (£250,000).

Equipment over £10,000 in value (incl. VAT) is not available through this call. Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the directly incurred – other costs heading.

Read further information on equipment funding (EPSRC).

Published: April 26th, 2021
Posted in Funding Opportunities

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