How can the UK take a leadership role in fostering innovation while building collaborations with other countries? What can we learn from the example of the Faraday Institution's work on energy storage?
In the seventh episode of CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast, CSaP Executive Director Dr Rob Doubleday sat down with the University of Cambridge's chemist Professor Clare Grey and cosmologist Professor Lord Martin Rees to discuss how we can support and foster scientific innovation, and the example of energy storage as a space where innovation is needed and progress is underway.
You can listen to the episode here:
Reflecting on the future of research and development in the UK, Professor Lord Martin Rees suggested that our main focus in the UK should be in trying to undertake the research and development needed to provide more efficient modes of clean energy generation, storage, and distribution via smart grids. These are exciting technologies which offer frontier problems in science and technology. Moreover, if the UK can get a lead in some of these technologies, it will be good for our economy and the technologies we create could be good for the world.
Lord Martin also emphasised the amplifying effect the UK could have if we collaborate with other nations including those in the Global South to accelerate R&D, which could help reduce planetary emissions by developing clean and affordable energy for the developing world. Here, Lord Martin has advocated for a mixture of government labs, university research, and both public and private funding to be involved in fostering innovation - emphasising that this mixture of supports is particularly needed in this sector given that there remain many areas where possible innovative solutions are still far from market and are in a precompetitive research phase.
The development of energy storage technologies will play a significant role in the energy transition needed to meet climate change goals, playing a valuable role in the future of sustainable transport and in the more efficient use of fuels. It is vital for managing the problems of intermittency and energy balancing between industrial and residential energy uses. In developing the next generation of batteries, whether it is lithium sulphur, or lithium oxygen, or something else, there are significant showstoppers and problems which Professor Grey has emphasised that we still do not know how to solve.
Battery research is an area where researchers are stepping back to ask what the challenges ahead are, how to get where we need to get, and are still trying to understand how much of the research ahead is blue skies or exploratory, and how much if it is directed towards solving specific problems in the field. Here, Professor Grey has noted that the UK needs to get much better at thinking hard about how we conduct scientific research in fields such as energy storage and hydrogen technology, to reflect how we can identify challenges and set out roadmaps for next steps in research. To succeed, she suggests we also need to innovate in new industries, to bring academics into the problem solving, and in the longer term to foster collaboration between different parts of different sectors where different people need different components.