As part of UKRI’s strategic theme of ‘building a green future’ and aligning to the UK’s Net Zero Research and Innovation Framework, UKRI and DfT will support the establishment of a single £10 million flagship Net Zero Transport for a Resilient Future Research Hub. This will build capacity and research critical mass in the UK. The hub will take a systems approach to developing and implementing sustainable, low carbon, adaptation solutions for resilient transport infrastructure and streetscapes.
As the largest contributor to UK emissions, accounting for 27% of emissions, decarbonising the transport sector is a crucial component of achieving the UK’s net zero 2050 target. The scale of transformation required to decarbonise our transport system is unprecedented and at the same time, the climate is already changing. We need to be able to respond quickly to ensure our transport system continues to be resilient and will support our net zero future.
Warmer wetter winters, hotter drier summers and more extreme weather events bring a range of hazards that the transport system is not currently built to withstand. This is generating a dual challenge that needs to be tackled, we need solutions that both reduce the carbon footprint of our transport system and enable it to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Transport and its linked infrastructure and streetscapes are excellent illustrations of the complex interdependencies between:
- innovation in engineering
- construction processes
- reuse and recycling
- new technological modalities
- our economy
Given that most of the infrastructure that will be in place in 2050 are already in service this becomes a challenge of rethinking and reworking our current infrastructure and streetscapes. It also means we should introduce new solutions that are resilient and net zero from the outset.
The most effective way to reduce carbon is to ‘design it out’, rethinking how we can achieve mobility of people, goods, and services without relying on traditional infrastructure design, installation, and current maintenance regimes. At the same time, much of this infrastructure will need to be modified or replaced to help it adapt to the impacts of climate change over this period and into the future.
Compared to development of low carbon emission technologies, the adaptation of existing infrastructure to increase its ability to absorb and recover the effects of climate change is unexplored. Approaches to achieving net zero emissions and creating resilience in transport systems and streetscapes need to be developed rapidly through a wide range of solutions that bring co-benefits such as:
- wider access
- reduced inequality
- enhanced safety
- reduced waste
- greater levels of recycling
- improved air quality
- economic growth
- environmental net gain
The hub is expected to bring together research, early-stage innovation, and demonstrations across transport modes to create, develop and test climate resilient places. It will bring together work in climate change mitigation and adaptation, recognising that different places and modes will require different solutions but need to learn from each other.
It spans academic disciplines, with work required on materials, construction methods, retrofitting, economics, geography and behaviour change. It meets a pressing UK need to build the resilience of our transport system, and to develop innovations that have international potential as the world faces the same challenges simultaneously.
This hub will provide a focus for the UK transport systems research community, working in close partnership with businesses, communities, government departments, and administrations throughout the UK to tackle research challenges linked to decarbonisation and adaptation of the sector.
The hub should be co-delivered with stakeholders and users to address critical issues where further research and innovation is required. Governance arrangements will include engagement of the DfT and cross-government Transport Research and Innovation Board.
The hub will build capacity linking together the investment landscape, carry out research, undertake knowledge exchange, develop key skills, while offering policy solutions and commercialisation for economic growth.
The Net Zero Transport for a Resilient Future Research Hub will focus on the transport sector’s needs over the next 25 years, as we approach 2050. During this time the sector is required to reach net zero and will be challenged by the impacts of our already changing climate, including temperature change, increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events and sea-level rise.
Research in partnership with communities, organisations, policymakers and transport delivery bodies needs to take a whole systems approach to improving the resilience of our transport system, and planning for a greater likelihood of disruption. Fundamentally, the impacts of climate change will vary across modes of transport, associated infrastructure, temporally, and geographically.
Adaptation of our transport system requires substantial research and policy progress. UKRI, DfT and partners have identified 4 priority areas. The hub will be expected to add value to these areas through researching solutions to improve resilience, and deliver net zero solutions to improve the transport systems for the user including:
- building solutions for resilience in transport infrastructure including rethinking existing transport infrastructure to reduce emissions and increase resilience as well as the development of new low carbon and resilient transport infrastructure
- changing how we consider:
- maximising co-benefits from the transition such as wider access
- reduced inequality
- enhanced safety
- reduced waste
- greater levels of recycling
- improved air quality
- economic growth
- environmental net gain
- modelling local climate and temperature change, sea-level rises, and extreme weather events to better understand climate impacts on our transport system and aid mitigation at the local level
- bridging the gap between the transport system, infrastructure, research, and policy
Building solutions for resilience in transport infrastructure
By developing lower carbon infrastructure solutions that are able to adapt to the known and anticipated effects of climate change, including maintenance regimes, amidst technological advances.
The hub is expected to take a whole systems approach to inform the design of an affordable and useable transport system across modalities and locations. This includes improved designs that require fewer materials, and which are produced to support higher levels of reuse and recycling and delivering on a sound understanding of systems engineering practices for transport infrastructure. This will include a focus on:
- existing transport infrastructure contains a large amount of resources, not only financial, but also embodied carbon and other environmental costs associated with its construction. Rather than replacing such infrastructure there are opportunities to increase its resilience to climate impacts in the near-term, while reducing the carbon footprint associated with use, maintenance, retrofitting and repairs, improve energy and heat performance, and promote the use of new, climate resilient and more sustainable products and materials. A major aspect here is not only understanding interactions with the wider system, but the need to improve the real time monitoring and performance of structures, their use and ability to withstand extreme weather events as much infrastructure is currently overdesigned and underused, with insufficient data as to how it is performing
- development of new infrastructure will at times be necessary. This will be where it is not possible to adapt existing infrastructure to meet future needs, and where we need new infrastructure and materials with greater resilience to the many challenges climate change brings, such as temperature variance, drainage, flooding, changing soil moisture and bank stabilisation. However, a key consideration will be reducing the amount of carbon needed in construction. This can be achieved through design optimisation, resource efficiency, modern methods of construction, the use of monitoring and performance data as well as new, sustainable and climate smart low carbon materials and identifying the opportunities for circular economy in the design, maintenance, and operation
Through changing how we consider streetscapes there is an opportunity to consider wider benefits from the transition to net zero and resilient transport solutions by exploiting opportunities from the move to increased urbanisation and our evolving localised transportation needs.
Designing our streetscapes to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate will necessitate the consideration of all elements of a street, including:
- adjoining buildings
- street furniture
- charging infrastructure
- active travel infrastructure
- increased trees and open spaces
- location of transportation hubs
There is the potential for these climate and carbon adaptations to reduce carbon, build climate resilience and maximise the space. It also has the potential to build co-benefits such as improving streets’ and communities’ characters, enhancing safety, improving community health and producing more livable communities.
Localised climate modelling of temperature change, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events
To better understand climate impacts on our transport system. The coarseness of current models mean that many predictions reflect the worst-case scenario across the UK. However, we know that necessary improvements to infrastructure will be affected by not only the local climate, but also the geography and geology of the area.
Linking in current work from policy experts (such as the Met Office and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs), a better understanding with clear local policy engagement of climates impacts on specific places will be created. This will include knowledge exchange of different types of climate events in these places and will allow the prioritisation of climate adaptation responses.
Bridging the gap between the transport system, infrastructure, research, and policy
At both local and national levels to make informed decisions about climate adaptation requirements. Currently many local authorities are struggling to identify which, if any, approaches they should adopt as results often do not relate to their local area, but the wider UK. Hence this may include providing evidence, guidance and tools to help local and national decision-makers prioritise UK transport investments in mitigation and adaptation measures.
There is also a substantial lag between the development of novel solutions such as materials and their adoption due to a lack of understanding of their properties, trust in their longevity, and maintenance requirements, within a legal and health and safety framework, which this research should address. Any linked equality, diversity, and inclusion issues with the development of transport systems should also be explored.
The hub’s core focus should be the delivery of a series of interdisciplinary research work-packages, led by academics from across the hub’s institutional consortium. The hub is expected to create demonstrable leadership on an international scale focusing on net zero adaptation to climate change in the transport system. Given the current impacts of climate change on the UK’s infrastructure we would expect that there would be some near-term, as well as mid to long term deliverables from the hub’s activities.
The hub’s research should focus on delivering a low carbon, resilient transport system including tackling the most pressing technology needs of the sector and the necessary behavioural and economic changes, including (but not limited to) the following:
Build solutions for resilience in new and existing transport infrastructure
- development of low carbon, affordable climate change adaptation solutions for new and existing infrastructure: looking at how we can reduce the cost and carbon of road or rail and interchange construction and maintenance and build-in the necessary resilience of infrastructure to climate change
- identifying, quantifying, and making the case for cost-effective solutions, including the longer-term cost and benefits of adaptation measures providing economic competitiveness and productivity growth
- enabling the necessary behaviour change at an organisational and individual level to enable the transition
- identifying the opportunities for circular design in maintenance and operation that may allow us to adapt existing assets to future needs
- considering embodied emissions, which in the context of infrastructure includes the carbon emitted in producing the materials used in construction, their transport to and installation on site, as well as their disposal at end of life
Existing transport infrastructure
- development of models of transport infrastructure performance and management to identify whether the changing needs of transport can be met within appropriate safety margins
- improving the performance of transportation networks over the lifetime of the asset that reflect changing demographics, behaviour, and mobility needs and utilise appropriate available technical solutions
- what new, sustainable or adaptable materials and solutions can be utilised when maintaining transport infrastructure?
- developing accurate monitoring and reporting of existing infrastructure to support a risk based, proactive management and targeted upgrade of the transport network when required to reduce embodied emissions, rather than responding to a failure
- developing accurate monitoring, quantification and reporting of carbon emissions and the comparison of projects and programmes covering maintenance and retrofitting requirements. This would also apply to new infrastructure
Development of new infrastructure
- expanding and embedding the role of circular economy and sustainability in planned infrastructure maintenance to reduce the embodied carbon and other associated environmental costs
- informing planning of more effective regional networks, linking rural areas, towns, and cities through efficient interchanges, delivering low carbon, flexible and adaptable infrastructure transportation systems for both freight and passenger
- accelerating the identification and development of new materials and technologies required to build and adapt infrastructure to the risks of climate change
- building on existing guidance and practice on whole-life carbon assessment to ensure good practice and performance improvement includes consideration of adaptation to future climate change
- delivering on a sound understanding of systems engineering practices for transport infrastructure to build in climate change adaptation and reduce excess emissions
- understanding the effectiveness of adaptation measures embedded in new infrastructure, such as High Speed 2, so best practice can be disseminated for future activities
- how to design and implement widespread streetscape reform within neighbourhoods to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For example, integrating new small-scale infrastructure such as electric vehicle charging and changing street functions such as prioritising active travel within neighbourhoods, while maintaining or improving the areas character to support diverse needs of communities
- modelling of nature-based solutions such as urban tree cover to mitigate the impacts of climate change around transport infrastructure
- building on research findings to provide clear guidance for planners, communities, organisations, policymakers and planners at both local and national levels to make informed decisions about adaptation requirements for our transportation systems
- exploring how interactions on the streetscape affects the safety of users, including lighting provision, signage, pavement quality, active travel provision and location of transport hubs
- how will different funding and operational models influence the adaptability, resilience, and design of transport systems (for example, how will policy and new models take climate change into consideration as well as influence planning and decision making)?
- how can the co-benefits of carbon mitigation and climate adaptation measures best be implemented to improve neighbourhood streetscapes? What are the most cost-effective options?
Localised climate modelling
- modelling the interplay between climate change, geography and geology on places and their transportation networks
- establishing how the impacts of climate change will affect new and existing infrastructure
- applying this learning in practice to inform decision making including funding decisions
Bridging the gap between the transport system, infrastructure, research, and policy
- providing pathways for organisations and policymakers at both local and national levels to make informed decisions about adaptation requirements for passenger and freight mobility while improving inequalities and enhancing the environment and clean air
- developing place-based solutions to climate adaptation and mitigation that comparable local authorities could learn from and adapt including the provision of tools how could new technologies in transport be accelerated and scaled-up to meet our environmental commitments (including, net zero, adaptation, biodiversity, and air quality)?
- how do we accelerate the trialling of health and safety legislation, as well as adoption of new materials and technologies required to build and adapt infrastructure to the risks of climate change?
- what are the skills needed to enable us to adapt our transport systems? Where are the skills gaps?
- how the design and development of transport systems enable access for all, and how we can support people in making sustainable mobility choices
- understanding the factors that determine whether corporate decision-makers will accept and adopt climate adaptation measures for transport operations
- modelling demographic changes in population movements and understanding organisational and community behavioural choices across modes and routes to inform policy and financial planning
Capacity building and skills
There will be an expectation on the hub to deliver skills outputs, support capacity and capability growth with the transport systems UK research community. The hub should expect to actively support career development across all career stages in the transport sector. A key focus should be on early career researchers, including provision of targeted flexible funding opportunities.
Suggested activities that the hub could include, but is not limited to, running summer schools, secondments between academia, industry and government, policy internships or fellowships, joint conferences, and papers.
Knowledge exchange and engagement
A critical feature of the hub will be its ability to convene the main actors in the transport research and innovation landscape. It should also tackle the most pressing needs of businesses, UK government departments and their arms-length bodies, and policymakers across the UK to secure both UK commercial advantage and policy objectives. This will ensure effective 2-way engagement, and information and knowledge exchange between all related investments and the hub to accelerate research and development.
The hub is expected to engage proactively with other major complementary investments looking at decarbonising transport, linked adaptation, sustainable choices and energy research and development landscape. They are also expected to engage with any relevant research and innovation investments made by UKRI and other public funders, including innovation investments funded by Innovate UK.
In the hub governance procedures, advice from users must be appropriately used in the hub decision-making strategy to help grow user engagement including securing leveraged funding and increasing the numbers of users involved. To evidence your partnerships, applicants are asked to include a user engagement strategy in their full proposals.
The hub is expected to take an open and inclusive approach and to grow and evolve over the lifetime of the grant. To reflect this, it is expected that the applicant should develop a flexible approach to the research agenda and priorities of the programme beyond the first 12 months of the hub to account for changes in the landscape, emerging opportunities, and industrial sector priorities.
To ensure that research outcomes from the hub can be fully exploited by industry and policy at all spatial levels, UKRI expect to see clear evidence of genuine, substantive partnerships, with co-creation and co-delivery of projects and activities, in addition to financial contributions.
Given the commercial interest and needs for this critical area, UKRI expects the hub to evidence at least £12.5 million of matched funding (from the private sector, and regional and civic bodies) over the lifetime of the grant. At application stage, UKRI expects the hub to evidence at least 20p of matched funding (from the private sector, and regional and civic bodies) to every £1 of UKRI and DfT investment. The panel will be asked to assess evidence of stakeholder interest and contributions.
The hub will be expected to provide a flexible funding mechanism, intended to support agile research on emerging topics and to encourage the involvement of the wider community, beyond the core academic members, as partners on such projects. The hub should release these funds annually, to support a full portfolio of research activities throughout the hub’s lifetime, amounting to a maximum fund of £2 million for the hub’s duration.
You will need to think carefully about how the flexible fund budget will be commissioned via a robust peer reviewed process where, the allocation of funds must be fair and transparent and within the framework of the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.
In partnership with the academic and business community, the hub should conduct a landscape mapping of research into net zero resilient transport infrastructures in the first 6 months of the hub. This should be able to be used to identify the optimum research areas to focus on using flexible funding.
Please note that the flexible fund will be restricted to EPSRC current research organisation eligibility, but will not be bound by standard EPSRC investigator eligibility criterion.
UKRI would expect some examples of the types of projects at the application stage, but the research challenges should evolve during the hub lifetime.
Please note that flexible funds may only be used for activities that may be funded through a standard research grant (for example, not studentships or the kind of student costs that would be funded through a training grant).
The flexible fund should be clearly listed under the ‘directly incurred’ headings on the application.
Governance and management
In addition to a standard hub management board, the hub will be required to establish its own independent advisory board, with EPSRC and DfT appointed project officers expected to be formal participants.
The hub advisory board will be required to include appropriate industry and policymaker representation, in addition to independent academics. Advice from end users, including the cross-government Transport Research and Innovation Board, must be considered in the hub strategy development to grow user engagement, including ongoing development of an effective user engagement strategy.
Eligible equipment can be included in hub proposals in addition to the £10 million grant funding available, with the intention of supporting access for the transport research community to equipment needed to address the pressing research related to this challenge.
The equipment could be a single item, or a series of items, that combine to form a single asset. This could include, but is not limited to:
- cutting-edge technology that enables new research
- high-specification equipment that improves existing research
Requested equipment can be between £10,000 to £400,000 in value at 50% FEC for a single item, with matched funding, providing there is a sufficient case made for each item and the scale of investment requested. Single items of capital infrastructure over £400,000 are not eligible in this funding opportunity.
Eligible capital equipment does not include equipment that you would expect to find or easily access in a well-funded laboratory. We wish to maximise use of equipment therefore the hub must have in place and justify a mechanism to share the equipment across the hub or nationally as appropriate.
Any equipment should be received and receipted before March 2025.
Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘Directly Incurred – Other Costs’ heading. Read more about EPSRC’s approach to equipment funding.
EPSRC approach to equipment funding.
Contribution to place-based agenda
Transport, climate adaptation, carbon mitigation, infrastructure, and green behaviour choices impact across all UK regions, from the local to national government levels. The appropriate solution to many problems will vary due to geographic location and historical constraint.
While it will be impossible for the hub to address all of these issues, the hub should engage with local-authority and civic stakeholders in meaningful collaboration, delivering benefits to specific local situations rather than a generic one-size fits all approach to the wider UK. While the hub is expected to be multi-institutional, there is no prerequisite for them to be located in the same area of the UK as their local authority or civic stakeholder collaborators.
Examples (non-exhaustive) of organisations we consider having a civic role:
- enterprise, development, or skills bodies (such as local enterprise partnerships or devolved equivalents)
- local authorities, councils, or combined authorities
- growth, city, and region deals
- devolved administrations and their agencies (noting projects still need to be focused on clusters or geography sub-national level)
- regional or local industrial and transport bodies (such as Transport for the North or Transport for the West Midlands)
We do not consider international bodies to have a civic role. They can however be included as project partners on proposals where it is appropriate to the aims of the scheme and your application.
Examples (non-exhaustive) of possible support from civic bodies:
- involvement in hub governance
- access to innovation or knowledge exchange activity
- secondments to or from hub activities or projects
- supporting or facilitating networking and engagement beyond the consortium
- supporting policy development and delivery
- direct adoption of research outputs
- market assessments
Monitoring and evaluation
You should ensure that monitoring and evaluation of the hub and its impacts is well-considered from the outset in order to effectively track the hub’s contribution and impacts across the transportation sector.
The hub will be expected to engage with the monitoring and evaluation regime put in place with UKRI and DfT¸ including data provision to assist with supporting the overall evaluation of the programme. Detailed guidance will be provided after the award has been made, and key performance indicators will be agreed with the hub.
The standard expectations for monitoring and evaluation within the hub will include annual reporting requirements, a mid-term review conducted by an independent panel and a post-investment evaluation. There will also be a requirement for the hub to submit a landscape evidence base report at the end of the first year of the investment. A schedule will be agreed upon award.
Equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI)
As leaders in the community, the hub will be expected to embed EDI in all their activities throughout the lifetime of the hub. If funded, this will include identifying the specific EDI challenges and barriers in their own environment and developing a strategy to address these, with reference to EPSRC’s published expectations for EDI and EDI action plan.
The hub must ensure that they request appropriate resources to develop and deliver their EDI strategy effectively.
The FEC of your project can be up to £12.5 million, including indexation. UKRI and DfT will fund 80% of the FEC. EPSRC and DfT will collectively fund one hub. The hub will be expected to match fund an additional minimum of £12.5 million, including indexation (via in-kind and financial contributions the private sector, and regional and civic bodies) over the lifetime of the grant.
The hub should consider how it will adapt to and respond to urgent and emerging research needs and national priorities, with the potential for additional in-year funds.
The team are expected to request the funding required to achieve the objectives and outcomes they have proposed for the hub. This may include, but is not limited to, funding for:
- the principal investigator time to lead the hub, and co-investigators to provide the required interdisciplinary inclusive approach
- staff to support the management, integration, coordination, knowledge exchange and publication activities of the hub
- research staff and associated consumables
- travel and subsistence
- flexible funding of up to £2 million to support agile research on emerging topics and to encourage the involvement of discrete parts of the community
- funding to support impact activities (including stakeholder and user engagement, policy engagement and public engagement)
- funding to support networking and community building activities, to enable engagement and collaboration across key disciplines and sectors, and with policy officials
- funding to support governance, monitoring, and evaluation activities
- equipment between £10,000 to £400, 000 at 50% FEC for a single item, providing there is a sufficient case made for the item and scale of investment
Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘Directly Incurred – Other Costs’ heading.
Read more about EPSRC’s approach to equipment funding.
EPSRC approach to equipment funding.
Funding is available for up to 43 months. The hub will have a fixed start date of 1 September 2023 and an end date of 31 March 2027. No extension to the start date can be given. You must have the necessary staff in place so that the projects can start on 1 September 2023. Funding is subject to business case approval.
You 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 guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.