NPL outline five technologies which will help us achieve a low-carbon society



NPL hosts London’s first hydrogen fuel cell charging station.


By Anders Lorenzen

In the UK, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has re-launched with key technologies which should help us beat the climate crisis.

NPL’s experience in a broad range of sectors falls in line with the UK government’s climate change priorities, the institute says.

The key initiatives put forward, NPL says, will help the UK obtain more value from renewables and other low-carbon technologies. Crucially, they will also increase our understanding of emissions and pollution. The institute says that it has applied the latest advances in measurement technology to make every stage of energy generation more efficient, safe and affordable which will, of course, improve the quality of data available on climate change as well as air pollution.

The institute argues that now is the perfect time to re-launch with the Paris Accord in place. The government plans to ban the sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and their new programs reflect those things. NPL believes there will be a greater emphasis on monitoring and mitigating the effects of climate change as well as air pollution.

To meet those challenges, UK’s energy infrastructure will have to undergo a substantial shift to meet demand while supporting economic growth. The institute believes that, as it has over a century’s worth of expertise in providing the underpinning of measurement standards, as well as the skills and technologies based on those standards it is perfectly placed to take the lead.

NPL states that the re-launch has happened as a direct result of government policy, including the UK government’s Industrial Strategy.

A hydrogen economy

Among those new programs, NPL is promoting the fuelling of a hydrogen economy. While the UK’s focus so far has been the promotion of electric cars, NPL is clear that while supporting the transition towards electric mobility, the potential of hydrogen fuel- cell cars must not be forgotten.

The institute has invested in its very own hydrogen fuel- cell car and can boast of London’s very first hydrogen fuel- cell charging station. NPL is working with industry to better understand the barriers to hydrogen uptake as a future energy carrier. For example, the technology could also be used to heat homes, thus dealing with two major areas at once as heating is still one of those issues with few low-carbon alternatives.

The future of battery development

Though it is not a question about hydrogen or electric mobility, NPL is also consulting with industry on future battery development. As there are doubts about whether Lithium-ion batteries can meet future battery needs, NPL is conducting research into battery technologies to increase their lifetimes and develop new techniques for testing the claims and viability of new batteries.

Understanding air pollution

And then, related to all of this, there is, of course, the problem of air pollution. NPL says that more data is needed to help us monitor and take effective action to reduce air pollution. The institute says that even though government stations provide highly accurate data, new low-cost sensors would offer a more localised picture. Increasingly, consumers are using them to map their own readings. These sensors could add to the existing network of data points and access.

However, NPL stresses that the data they provide can often be low of low quality. Therefore NPL has established a test facility to access the accuracy and help increase the understanding of air pollution.

Nuclear decommission

NPL says that the technologies available for nuclear decommission have moved on. It is working on making UK’s nuclear energy industry safer via more cost-effective decommissioning, and support for automation of hazardous activity. For example, scientists are exploring the use of graphene for water decontamination and radiation detectors; thereby developing imaging technology enabling robots to conduct hazardous activities and so reducing the risk to workers.

Climate science

On climate change, the institute says it is using space-based sensors which offer us a unique opportunity to capture global data on climate change over time. Though as more data is collected another problem presents itself, how to ensure the data collected is trustworthy and reliable. In order to deal with this NPL is working with the University of Reading and Telespazio.

Why are accurate and measurable data so crucial? NPL’s Head of Energy & Environment, Jane Burston, explains: “Without trustworthy data, we can never be confident that the measures we take to minimise climate change are having the desired impact. We need to know that the information we gather on emissions or air quality, for example, is accurate and that people can use the data to make decisions.”

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