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What Sustainability-led Research is Happening at Newcastle University

What Sustainability-led Research is Happening at Newcastle University

by Nic

It's World Engineering Day and Nic is here to share what sustainability-led research is happening at Newcastle University.

Hi there!

I'm Nic and I study Electrical and Electronic Engineering here at Newcastle University.

On the build-up to World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, Newcastle University asked me to look into ongoing projects which aim to benefit the planet. Newcastle University is well known for their research, but what really interested me recently is what research is being done in aid of the climate crisis.

So, what is being done in aid of the climate crisis?

1. The National Centre for Energy Systems Integration


The sheer scale of this project makes it difficult to not start with The National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) which can be found in the Urban Sciences Building at Newcastle Helix

I reached out to Professor Phil Taylor, Head of Engineering at Newcastle University, who gave me some insight into his work as the director of CESI. He shared insight into the impact their research could have on the UK’s ability to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, while allowing them to get a better understanding of future energy supply and demand.

He also spoke of Newcastle Helix, the £350 million, 24-acre area, which comprises of educational, commercial and residential buildings, with an estimated 4000 job prospects, is an active demonstrator at the heart of Newcastle. As a “living laboratory,” the space is home to a combination of innovative energy supply methods; an 11kV smart grid, solar and solar thermal (producing power and hot water) photovoltaics and combined heat and power district heating.


The CESI project itself is funded primarily by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Siemens, and headed up by 5 universities. Of the 7 work packages, 5 are led by Newcastle University academics, PHD graduates and students.

The ultimate aim is to combine various forms of energy generation to provide a cost-effective, efficient energy service with minimised environmental impact.

In late 2016, CESI produced a detailed presentation about the centre which provides really useful information.

The main benefits of the centre are: 

  • It inspires future development of more flexible energy systems.
  • The reduction in carbon emissions by promoting smooth integration of renewable energy onto the system.
  • It's integrated platform; allowing a combined approach to future power, heat and transport fuel requirements.
  • Cost effective flexible solutions.

2. NetTag

Fishing Net 3

NetTag is a project, led by Jeff Neasham, which really grabbed my attention. The aim of this research is to manufacture economically viable transponders that attach to fishing nets, preventing their loss and effect on ocean pollution.

According to National Geographic, 46% of the world’s largest floating collection of rubbish is comprised of fishing nets.

The vast majority of the remaining pollution comes from other fishing gear, making it one of the most detrimental pollutants in our oceans. A 'Ghostnet' is a term used to describe intentionally discarded, or accidentally lost fishing nets left to wander the oceans, resulting in the entanglement of marine life.

National Geographic have also estimated that 100,000 marine animals are strangled, suffocated or injured by plastics annually but the impact of ghostnets stretches further, from coral reefs and marine habitats to seabirds. Retrieving these ghostnets is a major challenge, hence proving the importance of NetTag and their research.

Fishing Net 2-1

Newcastle University has been doing underwater communications research for over 25 years, with previous projects stretching globally, e.g. underwater vehicle navigation and marine environment monitoring. With this experience, they have designed this matchbox sized transponder to be attached to nets which are capable of communicating, via acoustic waves, to vessels up to 3km away. By ensuring low energy consumption, these transponders can be out at sea for months, making them a great investment for fishers.

Previously developed transponders have sold for up to £15,000, with a power transmission of 100Watts. NetTag's aim is to manufacture a small transponder for around £50 which transmits at 1Watt; a signal designed to have minimal impact on marine life.

Ultimately, NetTag want their product to promote:

  • Better practice with on-board waste management.
  • Economic viability with less nets lost.
  • The prevention of ocean pollutants.

3. e4Future

Electric Car

Another demonstrator led research project is e4Future, overseen by Dr. Myriam Neaimeh, which focuses on utilising Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs). The project proposes the use of up to 1000 BEVs and bidirectional chargers (V2G) headed up by a collection of researchers, car manufacturers and power system stakeholders including Nissan and Northern Powergrid

Essentially, by plugging your BEV in and having it connected to the internet, combined with AI, your vehicle will then be charged and discharged as needed by the grid. The importance of AI is to ensure your vehicle will still be charged and ready to use, and not discharged in aid of balancing the grid’s requirement.

There are evidently huge benefits from this research, in an area such as the UK, where a large proportion of energy generation comes from renewable energy, we can utilise electrically charged vehicles to balance energy requirements without fully relying on fossil fuels. You can find more about it here.

I hope this gives you a snapshot into what Newcastle University is doing in regards to Sustainability! I would like to learn more about this in the future and be able to make a more detailed post!

- Nic

Interested in Sustainability at Newcastle University? Discover more about our campus initiatives, latest news, events and more at our Sustainable Campus webpage.