OX to ZERO 2022 | The key takeaways

Emma Southwell-Sander, Harwell’s Energy Tech Cluster Manager shares her main takeaways from the inaugural OX to ZERO event.

How do we reach a Carbon negative future and why net zero is not enough?

Climate change involves not only rising temperatures but extreme weather events. From floods in Pakistan and forest fires across Europe and America, the manifestation of climate change and the continual rise in global temperatures has never been more evident.

I recently attended the inaugural OX to ZERO event; it was great to see and hear from leading voices and innovative thinkers across Oxfordshire, covering topics from green transport, storage, fusion and removal. Although the topics and technologies were vastly different, one thing united the room, which was finding new and innovative ways to reach a global, zero carbon future, and how as Oxfordshire which is at the forefront of this drive is helping to achieve this.

Here are my main takeaways:

Diverse innovation, pace and scale are essential

The importance of climate change is inescapable, and an even greater challenge than the pandemic.  During the pandemic a vaccine was produced in nine months, a process that would normally take ten years, there needs to be a greater sense of urgency around tackling the climate emergency, an urgency to innovate and find solutions quickly and drive adoption.

The UK has committed to reaching net zero by 2050 however to meet our targets we need to do more than reach net zero – we need to remove Co2 as global temperatures will continue to go up as long as we keep putting CO2 into the atmosphere.

There is not one solution, but many and scaling is hard. About 50 billion tonnes of CO2 is released every year into the atmosphere, and to provide some sort of scale to the challenge the most successful CO2 removal project is currently only removing 4000 tonnes of CO2 each year, we need 12 million more projects like these if we are to be successful in reaching our goal.

We need lots of innovation happening now, from net zero to storage and removal solutions.  Not all projects will work, we need to accept this risk and drive investment to ensure we can turn ideas into production and scale up at pace. The acquisition of Yassa by Mercedes has led to the mass production of electric motors, making them more accessible and affordable and is a great example of where together they’re defining the future of driving.

The need to reimagine

Transportation a key enabler for economic development, but contributes to around 20% of the total global emissions.  Between 1750 and 1870, Great Britain created an industrialised network of transportation so efficiently that the nation transformed itself from a place of medieval, muddy roads to the home of the most advanced transportation system in the world. Fast forward to today and the automotive industry continues to manufacture cars in the same way it did 100 years ago.

By thinking radically differently we can accelerate electrification and move to a clean autonomous future and create a 21st century transport revolution that sees end to end innovation from design, production, use and recycling, something that Arrival an Oxfordshire-based company is pioneering.

I was inspired by Arrival’s presentation – their company has reinvented the manufacturing process, decentralising production, and making it modular and scalable, bringing with it multiple benefits. Micro factories serve and empower local communities, providing jobs and driving local economic growth. By developing a modular approach vehicles can be created that match the needs of the local area, leading to smart and connected ecosystems.

Oxford’s ecosystem is perfectly placed to speed up progress

Oxfordshire is an intellectual powerhouse across the green space and is leading the way in developing solutions to tackle climate change. Why? We have two great universities with a history of leading research and development, a rich skill base, knowledge and supply base and it’s the reasons why organisations are choosing to locate in Oxfordshire.

Fusion is a sustainable energy option for the future, providing abundant energy with no greenhouse gases and powering economic development in a cleaner, more sustainable way. It removes the variability of power supply that is common with renewable sources, it can help decarbonise the industry and can help undo the damage that has already been done through co-generation opportunities.

The Fusion Cluster is a great example of how by having all the components of a great ecosystem, from talent, research, skills and supply it can create connections, facilitate knowledge sharing and help organisations find the partners they need to advance their work on fusion. For example, Oxford University’s first spin-out was Oxford Instruments in 1957 and supplies high superconductive magnets a key component required for Fusion, UKAEA’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy is the UK’s national fusion research laboratory and organisation based in Oxfordshire and powered by partnerships are making breakthroughs in this sector taking it one step closer to helping power the UK.

First light fusion delivered a new projectile approach to Fusion, Tokamak Energy announced that they achieved fusion temperatures of 100 million degrees C and EUROfusion and the UK Atomic Energy Authority announced the results of the latest experimental campaign on the JET tokamak, which broke the record for fusion energy produced earlier this year, making headlines around the world.

And at Harwell, we have over seven decades of radical thinking that underpins the fast expansion of the Energy Tech Cluster. From post-war atomic energy research, the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source and the Central Laser Facility, to our world-leading Diamond Light Source and recent work scoping out space-based, solar power generation.

With a ‘real’ community of users and facilities as an analogue of mixed-use industrial sites, we can develop, test, evaluate and refine new energy systems in a real-world environment before they’re rolled out more widely. This accelerates the development of new solutions, with the added advantage of Harwell’s vast pool of technical knowledge to hand.

By combining leading national research facilities with investment and commercial organisations across the green spectrum we have the chance to live sustainably and protect the world from further damage, for future generations.