Innovating our way to Clean Tech - Insights from Dowling Policy Fellowship meeting

8 February 2023


Innovating our way to Clean Tech - Insights from Dowling Policy Fellowship meeting

Reported by Karan Bali, CSaP Policy Intern and Sevcan Birdal, Communications Manager

The third meeting of CSaP’s Dowling Policy Fellowship took place on 27 January 2023 at Sidney Sussex College. The meeting was designed to stimulate discussion around the subject of clean tech, with talks from a variety of academics and innovators from the Cambridge ecosystem.

The event began with a lunch discussion with Dr Diarmuid O’Brien, the Chief Executive of Cambridge Enterprise. Dr O’Brien described the mission of Cambridge Enterprise, which drives research translation out of the university, as generating impact and creating a thriving innovation ecosystem in the Cambridge area. He further talked about thirty science parks, employing 100,000 researchers, that have been developed in the area as well as Innovate Cambridge, a collaborative initiative launched last year focused on creating growth that benefits everyone in the area. Dr O’Brien closed by stating that we need to focus on how we can continually improve research translation.

The first seminar of the afternoon was given by Professor Henning Sirringhaus, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge. In his talk, ‘Advanced materials for the energy transition’, Professor Sirringhaus focused on solar cells, battery technology and waste heat harvesting as three technologies required to achieve net zero by 2050. He highlighted that improving the efficiency of solar cells lies in the use of tandem cells and halide perovskite-based materials, whilst searching for alternatives to cobalt (such as nickel) is key to improving the sustainability of batteries. He further discussed that one of the most exciting areas of research lies in waste heat energy harvesting and two-thirds of primary energy is currently wasted as heat. Professor Sirringhaus stated that finding ways to convert this heat back into useful energy, using organic semiconductor materials, is quite important.

Professor Anil Madhavapeddy, Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Cambridge spoke about his role as Director of the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Credits (4C) , an interdisciplinary group that is aiming to provide a quantitative measure for Carbon credits. He emphasised that forest conservation remains one of the most effective ways of offsetting carbon emissions by ensuring carbon removal. Referring to a recent Guardian article, he stated that the issue in carbon offset project lies in having a clear, quantifiable metric of their effectiveness. To this end, Professor Madhavapeddy and his colleagues at 4C have created the Permanent Additional Carbon Tonne (PACT), a metric for carbon offset that quantifies a given project’s additionality, leakage and permanence compared to baselines. Their goal was to generate a widely used rating system for carbon offset projects.

The final talk of the event came from Professor Alison Smith, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. Professor Smith spoke about the use of microalgae in a range of sustainable solutions and the role of algae in the circular bioeconomy. She further talked about a project in collaboration with colleagues in Uganda, where algae were grown on fruit and vegetable waste and also discussed the dietary advantages of algae for humans as a result of having a high protein balanced amino profile and being a key source of vitamin B12. Emphasising the ability to grow algae at a large scale is crucial to make a meaningful impact on the circular bioeconomy, Professor Smith informed the audience about the Algal Innovation Centre, which has been set up to assess the feasibility of scaling up algae production in the Cambridge Botanic Gardens.

Image by Nasa from Unsplash