Energy Technology Partnership (ETP)
ETP is the Scottish Academic Research Pool in energy, an autonomous alliance of 13 independent Scottish HEIs, each with areas of outstanding research capability in the energy sector. ETP’s vision is to build on the existing areas of excellence and collaborative working to ensure that Scotland remains, into the future, a world-renowned source for energy related RD&D and its commercialisation in the energy sector. It creates value for the Scottish economy by acting as a broker between academia and external organisations and industry, promoting and disseminating ETP’s mission to translate excellent research into economic impact – as evidenced in the ETP Knowledge Exchange Network. Through the Energy Industry Doctorate Programme, ETP supports the energy sector with the skills it needs to maximise industrial growth opportunities.
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- Energy Science and Research
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- Nationally (across the country)
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ETP’s network of Business Development Managers can share the emergent best practice between academia and industry and help Scottish SMEs identify the best possible support available.
It creates value for the Scottish economy by acting as a broker between academia and external organisations and industry, promoting and disseminating ETP’s mission to translate excellent research into economic impact through the following:
Contributing to a Scottish World-Leading Research Base that is internationally competitive and strengthening its global reputation and standing.
Creating Economic Impact for the Scottish economy and society through communication, conferences, seminars, workshops, special interest groups, and knowledge exchange activity.
Supporting the energy sector with the Skills it needs, primarily through PhD programmes.
Through working on its four key focus areas of: capacity building, relationship building, internationalisation and economic impact, the ETP will help deliver, with the Scottish energy RD&D community, a range of expected additional benefits, for example:
- Increased capacity and capability in energy RD&D competitiveness
- Increased sharing of major facilities, equipment and resources
- Creation of critical mass in key areas to ensure international competiviveness
- Increased investment and funding - Scottish, UK, EU and international
- Ehanced reputation - UK and international
- Increased ability to attract leading international research stars
- Stronger links to enterprise and increased business funded RD&D
- Increased levels of knowledge transfer across the RD&D community
- Development of new inter-discpiplinary RD&D
- A single 'front door', where required, to seek information and gain access to the skills and expertise available in the Scottish energy RD&D community
The ETP Membership includes the universities which are part of the three existing Scottish regional pooling arrangements along with the University of St. Andrews, Edinburgh Napier University and the University of the Highlands & Islands.
The ETP will also seek to build on and develop new relationships with other researchers and other key stakeholder organisations.
Governance of the ETP comes from the:
- ETP Directorate comprising of leading energy researchers in Scotland provides leadership and coordination on behalf of the ETP Members.
- ETP Advisory Group which provides strategic advice from Industry and Policy perspectives.
- Energy Research Affiliate Forum provides advice on the design and delivery of energy related RD&D.
Delivery of the ETP objectives comes from:
- ETP Theme Coordinators
- ETP Knowledge Exchange Network
Historically one of the most widely used means of generating both heat, energy and now biofuels, bio-energy figures strongly in the list of those energy technologies with the greatest potential for the future and is therefore a central plank of the research and development effort in Scotland.
Even at its most basic level bio-energy, in the form of simple technologies such as wood burning stoves, is much more widely used.
Over the past couple of decades even the simple stove has evolved into much more sophisticated wood fired boilers used for heating and hot water supply to replace oil or gas fired systems. These mainly require wood fuel pellets produced to particular and consistent standards of density and humidity and has required a great deal of innovation in forest management, harvesting methods, timber processing and pellet production.
Bio mass fired power stations
The use of biomass fired power stations is also increasing. While these are also fuelled mainly by timber or timber products using fast growing forms of tree a number can also use domestic waste material collected and sorted and burnt to produce steam that can be used for generating electrical power and/or hot water for district or local heating systems.
Improving the efficiency of biomass firing which includes improving the quality of the feedstock as well as the combustion process itself is an essential requirement. Similarly, ensuring the flue gases produced are both clean of toxic elements and particle free is a priority.
Some biomass power plants use a technique known as Gasification. Here the material is burnt at high temperatures but using a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam. This produces a gas mixture called syngas which is made up mainly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen and is itself a fuel. A similar technique called Pyrolysis also uses high temperature burning but in the absence of any air. The process can be optimised to produce charcoal, gases or liquid fuels.
With both Gasification and Pyrolysis the syngas can be used to fuel an internal combustion engine, a gas turbine or – given the high level of hydrogen of circa 85% – a fuel cell. Syngas can also be processed using Fischer Tropsch technology to liquid fuels such as methanol or diesel.
Conversion of wet waste material
Biological conversion processes include Anaerobic Digestion where wet waste materials are “encouraged” to decompose as efficiently as possible to produce primarily methane. This may appear superficially simple, however, the use of selected microorganisms can improve the process significantly resulting in much higher methane yields and a higher quality co-product which is used as a fertiliser. The methane produced is generally used for power generation by burning it in an internal combustion engine or small gas turbine connected to a generator. More recent developments see the gas cleaned and distributed through the natural gas mains.
Understanding the process of anaerobic digestion and which bacteria are most effective on the various types of waste that might be used is essential to maximising gas production from the wide range of waste materials available.
Liquid fuel availability is a much larger issue than power generation and there is considerable interest in Bio-fuel which has become perhaps the most familiar recent outcome of bio-energy research and development work with the best known bio-fuel products being probably bio-ethanol and bio-diesel.
Both these can be produced from a range of plant sources and considerable effort is going into maximising the “oil production” from particular plants and in the process of producing the fuels.
The pace of bio-fuel development is quickening. Already, a Scottish university project has resulted in the successful production of Bio-Butanol from distillery waste and another institution is working on producing bio-fuels from seaweed and marine micro-algae. Butanol is a higher octane fuel than ethanol and will run in standard engines. Many countries are also now working on a Bio-Kerosene to be used as jet fuel and trial flights have already been made successfully.
Even more interesting in terms of bio-fuel production is the development of Synthetic Biology which – for example - has resulted in bacteria that can consume sugars and excrete pure diesel. Other developments in this area include bacteria that can produce hydrogen whilst at the same time absorbing or “fixing” other gases including carbondioxide.
The question has to be asked as to what else might be possible using Synthetic Biology techniques. Another important development is the use of algae to capture carbon dioxide and produce oils capable of being processed into biofuels and other products including proteins. It is possible this technology might be used to remove carbon dioxide from the gases produced by coal or gas fired power stations and a small scale demonstrator aimed at proving this concept is already in operation in Scotland. Again, this is an area that could well benefit from Scotland’s synthetic biology capabilities.
Scotland has some of the best wind renewable energy resources in the world. The importance of wind energy to Scotland’s energy mix is evident from the dramatic increase in the last decade in both onshore and offshore wind farm construction projects and the decision by a number of global manufacturers to establish Scottish manufacturing and research and development facilities.
The overall aim of the industry is quite understandably to be able to build and install the most cost effective systems that it can. In the case of offshore wind in particular this could mean much larger turbines with all that implies in terms of the design of their components and structure.
Exploiting internationally leading wind energy research capability derived from more than twenty years’ experience, Scotland’s universities are being mobilised to support the wind industry. Already, the universities are directly engaged with the industry in several aspects of the technology.
Generators and speed drives
The design of generators and variable speed drives that eliminate the need for gearboxes is being pursued asgearboxes are commonly believed to be prone to failure and so a potential cause of reduced availability for offshore sited wind turbines. One university team has developed a new direct-drive generator design that reduces the weight by up to 50%, simplifies assembly and, thereby, reduces their cost. Commercial demonstrators of this design are now being produced.
Important to the efficiency and survivability of the proposed larger offshore turbines is the structural and aerodynamic design of the turbine blades. One approach under investigation is the use of lighter, more durable materials making blade assemblies easier to install and replace as well as increasing their life expectancy by reducing erosion and structural issues.
As the size of the wind turbines increase, the control system’s role in reducing the loads on the turbine becomes increasingly important. Unequalled expertise on the design of control systems arising from twenty years of research experience and practice is available.
Offshore wind turbines
Onshore wind turbines are easy to access and, therefore, fairly straightforward to service and maintain. However, offshore, where access can be limited, the operations and maintenance costs contribute increasingly to the cost of energy. Efficient and effective maintenance routines will become critical to avoid damaging and costly failures. These will evolve as experience is gained of the offshore environment and offshore turbine reliability. The routines will depend on failure rate analysis and the increased use of advanced condition monitoring systems.
The universities are heavily involved in the Wind Energy development of these including the use of new techniques such as vibration and acoustic monitoring. The layout of a wind farm has to be optimised with regards to maximising energy capture and reducing infrastructure costs. The development of computer design tools to assist with this task is on-going, in particular, to increase their accuracy. This issue applies both to onshore and offshore wind farms as indeed does the issue of reducing radar interference to a minimum.
With offshore wind farms, the sub-sea structure, that supports the turbine, will be an important cost element. Its design has to take into account a range of issues. These will include the use of soil mechanics to determine the conditions of the seabed and the near subsurface so that an appropriate foundation design is selected. Similarly it is important to analyse and model the loads on the turbine support structure.
Integrating wind power into the national grid
As the number of offshore wind farms grows, the development of offshore power grids is likely. The development of new design rules on how to manage high voltage AC and DC networks will be required as will research into power electronics for rapidly switching and balancing these networks.
The integration of large and variable amounts of wind power into the national grid will inevitably have an impact on its stability and so will require careful monitoring and the development of sophisticated management systems.
The issue of “excess generation” will also need to be addressed. To do so may involve energy storage perhaps using so called flow cells which are essentially large capacity batteries or using excess electricity for producing hydrogen or sea water desalination. Appropriate solutions still need to be developed.
The impact of wind farms on the environment both on and offshore is also important and some ground rules need to be developed which can be applied during planning and when obtaining public support. Consideration also needs to be given to the impact on the economy and how society can benefit generally from the growing wind turbine industry.
Domestic wind turbines designs
It is important to point out that there is also a burgeoning market in medium size and small domestic wind turbines which are subject to similar pressures towards reducing cost. The universities are also supporting this sector. The improvement in energy yield at low wind speed through the redesign of the rotor has been explored in conjunction with a small turbine manufacturer.
Alongside over thirty years of oil and gas production Scotland has developed an internationally recognised, broad based oil and gas research community involving its universities, test centres and other institutions. As long term players Scottish research groups have developed strong relationships with a large number of global oil and gas operators, contractors and manufacturers and others in the supply chain, government departments and overseas research institutes and universities Consequently Scotland’s research capabilities are inevitably closely aligned with the various stages of development of any potential oil and gas resource.
Understanding the structure of sedimentary basins
Looking at these stages of development and starting at the earliest it has been shown to be of critical importance that a good understanding is achieved of how the resource was created. This includes having to develop techniques so that the structure of sedimentary basins such as the North Sea can be properly understood. Research on this topic provides valuable knowledge on issues such as how fluids have migrated to form reservoirs so enabling much more informed decisions to be made regarding exploration procedures and programmes.
Allied to this is research in areas such as basin modelling, palaeontology, geochemistry, hydrogeology and geomagnetism all of which Scotland’s researchers are experienced in and actively working on. This has led to the development of – for example – new subsurface imaging technologies for looking with greater detail at rock structure to enable better and more accurate modeling. One such development called “multi-channel transient electromagnetic technology” was successfully commercialised via a university spin-out company which is now part of a multi-national geophysics company.
In Exploration Technologies such as drilling Scotland also has a great deal of research expertise, in areas such as problems related to stuck pipe associated with the inefficient removal of drilled cuttings which is often encountered when drilling deviated wells, when the drillstring may be lying sometimes close to the horizontal. Improving drilling speed and controllabity is also a research topic that could provide huge benefits and this has led to a project based on the development of an “ultrasonically enhanced drill bit” where the drill bit is vibrated at or close to the harmonic frequency of the material through which it is drilling. This causes it to break up much more easily and enables far faster progress.
Flow assurance capability
This balance of theoretical and modeling based research and practical engineering design and development is a hallmark of Scotland’s research capability. Flow Assurance is a term covering issues related mainly to problems encountered during production and includes two main topics namely scale deposition and hydrate formation. If left untreated both these problems can lead to a loss of production and extremely costly remedial work. Understanding what causes both forms of these flow restricting mechanisms, how they can be prevented and cleared still involves a large research effort between industry and academia. Production based research also includes work on dealing with heavy oils, managing multiphase flow, designing better water injection systems and other similar work where the constant improvement of techniques leads to higher recovery levels.
Production and transport techniques
Work is also being undertaken on production hardware. Improving separation techniques and especially environmentally acceptable water removal remains an on-going challenge as reservoirs get older. So called “Smart Well” technology is also being examined in terms of what it achieves in reducing production risk through better well monitoring and control. This technology is also being looked at as a means of reducing well intervention frequency and its general impact on safety and reduction in operating costs.
The modern offshore oil and gas industry also includes extensive use of ships. Scotland has had a significant influence on the development of both these systems through extensive research programmes. These have led to design standards being produced in Scotland being used globally in areas such as the design of floating production systems and anchor systems.
Scotland has considerable research expertise in ship stability and safety, hydrodynamics and complex marine structures such as tension leg platform. Many of today’s offshore subsea operations are conducted using remotely operated vehicles and Scottish researchers are working with new control systems for remote and autonomous vehicle design, control systems simulation, image processing and the use of digital video for navigation purposes.
A Scottish university is also recognised as a global leader in the design and development of composite material transducers for both civil and military sonar systems and has created a successful spin-out to commercialise the technology. It is developing similar technologies for the acoustic monitoring of rotating machinery as a means of providing the early detection of a potential failure.
Whilst research in exploration and production technologies is critical to ensure the ongoing availability of oil and gas resources it is equally important to understand the economics of oil and gas exploration and development. Hence, evaluating the effectiveness of R&D policies, the security of UK oil and gas supplies including gas storage and the economics of third party access to infrastructure. Alongside the economic aspects of the oil and gas sector there is also the important field of international business transactions and natural resources and energy law and policy which is also a topic for research in Scotland.
The Earth receives an incredible supply of solar energy. The sun, which has been burning for over 4 billion years, provides enough energy in one minute to supply the world’s energy needs for one year and in one day provides more energy than our current population would consume in 27 years.
In fact, the amount of solar radiation striking the earth over a three-day period is equivalent to all the energy stored in all fossil energy sources. This suggests that we should be putting considerably more effort into harnessing it and in Scotland researchers are doing just that.
Harnessing solar energy
There are two main technologies that harness solar energy. The first –perhaps the simplest and most established in Scotland –is “solar thermal”. Here, the sun’s heat or radiation is used to heat up a fluid – normally water mixed with anti-freeze. This is pumped through a heat exchanger that is connected to a domestic or commercial hot water supply. The fluid is contained within piping mounted on an “absorber plate” in a flat panel, which has a clear cover designed not just to let the maximum amount of sunlight through but to stop heat escaping back out again. The panels are mounted preferably on a south facing roof. In good conditions it can certainly be used to bring a domestic hot water supply up to full temperature, and at a minimum solar thermal is an easy way of at least pre-warming water so that it requires less conventional energy to bring it up to temperature.
The second way of using solar energy is to generate electricity with it using solar cells. A solar cell is a solid state device that converts sunlight directly into electricity by the photovoltaic (PV) effect, thus creating a voltage and a corresponding electric current in a material upon exposure to light.
Perhaps the best known material used for manufacturing solar cells is the silicon wafer, which is used to make the familiar dark blue PV panels. Silicon is still the subject of an intense research effort aimed at improving its efficiency, reducing its cost through improved manufacturing techniques and increasing the breadth of applications for solar cells.
In particular, considerable effort is now going into the development of “thin film” solar cells which are manufactured by depositing one or more thin layers of photovoltaic material (including silicon) onto a cheap substrate or backing sheet. These considerably lighter thin film cells allow flexible technologies to be developed, which can be moulded to the shape of a roof or even used for “wearable” solar cells fabricated with textile substrates. A form of semi-transparent thin film solar cell has also been developed for use as a type of glazing on buildings and has even been used on the wings of solar powered aircraft and on electric vehicles. Here again Scottish researchers are involved in the development of this technology.
Novel technologies such as dye-sensitised and organic (or “plastic”) solar cells also offer the possibility of cheap and efficient solar energy because of their low-cost materials and simpler manufacturing process compared to traditional solid-state cell designs. It can also be produced as a flexible sheet and is considered to be fairly robust. However, due to its less efficient nature it is currently being targeted at consumer electronics applications. The prize of developing even better dye-sensitised or plastic solar cells is extremely large and understandably there is therefore a major effort – in which Scottish researchers are involved – being put into the development of new dyes and organic semiconductors to allow construction of solar cells with better light-harvesting efficiency and stability.
A key goal of the PV industry is to realise technologies with suitable cost and performance to enable them to compete with fossil fuel electrical generation by achieving grid parity. Grid parity being “the point at which alternative means of generating electricity is at least as cheap as the retail price of grid power”.
Modifying the wavelengths of sunlight
Another important area of research and development in Scotland involves the concentration of solar energy on the photovoltaic surface. This means less photovoltaic material is required reducing both the size and cost of the solar cell overall. Here the strengths of the optics and photonics industries can also be drawn on, especially with regard to Scottish research looking at modifying the wavelengths of sunlight before they interact with the solar cell, i.e. improving the match of the incident solar spectrum to better suit the performance of today’s solar cells.
All these developments and others including novel applications such as solar powered water treatment technologies or integrating solar cells into the fabric of buildings is all part of the research mix being undertaken across Scottish universities using multi discipline groups mainly under the auspices of the Scottish Institute for Solar Energy Research (SISER). SISER aims to enhance collaboration in the area of solar technologies-both within Scotland and internationally- as well as providing expertise and facilities to support up and- coming R&D and future commercialisation in the field.
Scotland has some of the best marine renewable energy resources in the World. The Atlantic Ocean delivers abundant wave energy to its western shores and the regular tidal flows between the Atlantic and North Sea create a very high tidal current energy resource. Wave and tidal energy will be important contributors to a diverse and secure future energy mix because they are predictable or increasingly able to be forecast.
There are full-scale prototype wave and tidal energy generators at sea, connected and delivering energy to the UK network and other prototypes are nearing installation, although not yet in arrays. 2010 began the decade of increasing deployment of marine energy technology, with ambitious targets set to see up to 2000 MW of wave and tidal current generators installed in UK waters by 2020. Scotland’s universities have been at the forefront of marine energy conversion and delivery since the 1970’s and, with other UK partners, are leading the global challenge to create, develop and deploy wave and tidal-current generators in the seas around its shores.