Solutions for net zero challenges
Funding is available to support research into finding solutions for net zero challenges through the development and use of AI.
We are progressing the multidisciplinary approach to the development and application of AI outlined in the UKRI publication transforming our world with AI. As such, this is a UKRI activity led by EPSRC and is intended to include research that also involves BBSRC, ESRC and NERC remits. Any application must include research elements relevant to at least 2 councils’ remits.
The development and application of AI technologies can provide the solutions to support society in delivering greenhouse gas emission reductions and innovative solutions for net zero challenges across a range of sectors.
AI is a set of tools and techniques whose development is advanced when applied to real world problems.
This investment enables us to both advance the development of AI tools and techniques as well as provide net zero solutions. There are many diverse data sources where AI could be used to substantially advance their effective use and the UK is in a position to take advantage of these data sources.
AI tools, techniques and capabilities
Proposals should seek to develop tools, techniques and capabilities in AI that:
- address greenhouse gas emissions to meet net zero targets
- focus on supporting activities that can make substantive progress towards delivery of real-world solutions, working closely with end users such as industry and policymakers
Co-creation between the AI community and other disciplines and sectors, to create novel and bespoke solutions which can progress both the technology and its application to net zero contexts is vital.
Proposals could employ AI to:
- advance understanding
- develop novel solutions
- make or improve decisions
- inform and enhance policy
- enable rapid progress towards net zero
In doing so, it is anticipated they are likely to also address key underpinning barriers to AI in a net zero context, such as the need to:
- increase adoption
- deliver improved interoperability and labelling of datasets
- de-risk adventurous approaches
- integrate across data sources and types, enabling better use or reuse of data
- crowd-in diverse expertise, disciplines and stakeholders needed to achieve a step-change in the field
This funding opportunity seeks to support agile projects creating strong foundations for the sector and invites applications that include high emitting areas highlighted (where it is noted that it is hard to reduce emissions).
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and other applications for AI to net zero challenges aligning with 1 or more of the 4 key areas, will be considered.
- grid operation or balancing
- demand management
- data analytics to understand customer energy usage, manage energy flow and optimise energy usage
- predictive data for energy trading
- blockchain technology for power purchase agreements
- create virtual power plants to understand future deliver options
- demand management across modalities understand how they interlink on demand
- AI-enabled transport logistics, maintenance and journey optimisation
- tools for efficient route planning
- AI systems to analyse travel planning and maintenance
- harmonised digital reporting for ships
- electronic freight transport information
- adaptation and resilience to natural hazards and extreme events, including impact mitigation
- prediction and management of water scarcity, droughts and flooding
- improved weather and climate prediction
- carbon capture and storage and observations and modelling of greenhouse gas emissions to predict and understand the impact of mitigation efforts
- use of nature-based solutions to deliver net zero
- enhanced use of sensing systems, models, and data sets to gain understanding of mitigation and adaptation
Agriculture and food systems
- targeting direct emissions from farm to fork
- improved traits to lower emissions in a range of climate scenarios
- approaches such as precision farming that reduce or eliminate high-greenhouse gas inputs
- improved land use and soil carbon management including:
- modelling of emissions
- net zero-related trade-offs in agri-food systems
- reducing waste
- enabling better policy and supply chain interventions
- improving decision making by industry, consumers and other stakeholders
It is vital that net zero solutions also consider key health, nutrient, and food safety needs, and the need to maintain and improve the natural environment and biodiversity.
It is expected that economic, social and behavioural research will be embedded within each submission, enabling key areas, such as (but not limited to):
- supporting net zero business decision-makers with reliable information about their emissions across their supply chains
- incentivising customers to sharing data with energy providers
- new regulation and standards for relevant technologies
- delivering net zero solutions
- data enabled business models
- understanding the cost of sharing data, barriers to behaviour, acceptance and confidence in AI linked to net zero
Successful projects will apply AI technologies and develop tools, techniques and capabilities across these themes to deliver tangible, immediate impacts to net zero.
Proposals that deliver to more than 1 area are welcome but should clearly articulate the link between the sectors and that linking these areas is appropriate. Proposals should demonstrate clear impact routes, for example within industry or policy (at national, regional or local scales), and be co-created and co-produced with users.
Building a UK AI net zero community
This funding opportunity seeks to build a new community of AI experts working in close collaboration with net zero researchers to develop new AI tools and techniques to overcome key net zero challenges.
It is also intended to create a broad AI for net zero research community that includes both AI and net zero researcher. As such all projects will be expected to allocate resource to:
- enhance and link to the wider landscape and ecosystem
- undertake substantial joint network, engagement and dissemination activities across business, the private sector and policymakers
In addition, they should make provision to link to the other successful AI for net zero projects (for example allocated time to sit on the advisory boards and hosting joint events). As well as the wider AI and net zero landscapes to create a truly innovative linked programme and engage across a diverse range of stakeholders.
It is expected that the successful proposals will contribute to building of national capacity in AI for net zero, for example by:
- developing AI capabilities with the interdisciplinary net zero community
- undertaking landscape mapping of investments related to their proposed research activity
- building capacity and skills, which could include running summer schools, 3-month ’fellowships’, joint conferences and papers
- demonstrating awareness and engagement of the AI and net zero sectors beyond their own particular research area
- detailing how they will contribute to an AI for net zero community that involves academics, industry and policymakers, drawing in relevant external expertise to the AI sector as appropriate
- spreading best practice and developing community assets
Successful applications will be expected to provide information and evidence to UKRI that will inform the future UKRI AI for net zero research strategy and wider AI landscape. This will support the longer-term sustainability for the sectors.
In addition, it is expected that each project will include support to engage across their AI field as the landscape and a wider portfolio of investments supported by UKRI develops. It is expected that the successful projects will coordinate their activities to form a larger AI for net zero community network. The network will exchange ideas, challenges and solutions as well as act as a source of strategic intelligence for UKRI.
Leaders of each investment will be expected to represent this community in collaboration with other investments across UKRI.
Resources requested in this application must be justified and appropriate for delivering the proposed outcomes and identify the main risks and put contingencies in place.
Successful proposals will also be expected to secure substantial leverage support (financial and in kind) and routes to accessing continued support throughout the lifetime of the project should be detailed.
Please note that applicants can be named investigators in a maximum of 2 proposals, but named as a principal investigator on only 1 proposal.
Success proposals will be multidisciplinary with applicants from more than 1 UK university.
Projects have a fixed start date of 1 May 2023 and an end date of 31 March 2025. No extension to the start date can be given. Applicants must have the necessary staff in place so that the projects can start on 1 May 2023.
Funding for this opportunity is subject to business case approval by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and HM Treasury
UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy lays out our ambition to actively lead environmental sustainability across our sectors. This includes a vision to ensure that all major investment and funding decisions we make are directly informed by environmental sustainability, recognising environmental benefits as well as potential for environmental harm.
In alignment with this, UKRI is tackling the challenge of environmental sustainability through our ‘building a green future’ strategic theme. The theme aims to develop whole systems solutions to improve the health of our environment and deliver net zero, securing prosperity across the whole of the UK.
Environmental sustainability is a broad term but may include consideration of such broad areas as:
- reducing carbon emissions
- protecting and enhancing the natural environment and biodiversity
- waste or pollution elimination
- resource efficiency and a circular economy
UKRI expects projects to embed careful consideration of environmental sustainability at all stages of the research and innovation process and throughout the lifetime of the project.
Projects should ensure that environmental impact and mitigation of the proposed research approaches and hub operations, as well as the associated project outputs and outcomes is considered.
Projects must also seek opportunities to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of your academic and industry partners.
UKRI is fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.
We recognise that we have a duty of care to:
- promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor
- encourage our research community to do likewise
Therefore applicants are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.
Applicants planning to include international collaborators on their proposal should visit Trusted Research for information and advice on how to get the most out of international collaboration whilst protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.
Grant holders will be expected to engage with the relevant regulatory bodies where concerns may arise under the National Security and Investment Act. Aspects of bias, privacy, security and ethics should be considered where appropriate.
Up to £13 million is available for projects funded by this opportunity. Projects are invited between £1 million and £2.5 million at 80% full economic cost.
Equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) is not available through this funding opportunity.
Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be included in the ‘Directly Incurred – Other Costs’ heading.