Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Pre-announcement: Sustainable Industrial Futures

This is a £21million (funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) at 80% FEC over seven years) flagship investment focused on tackling cross-sectoral research challenges rooted in excellent, leading-edge engineering and physical sciences and transdisciplinary approaches to enable the transition of UK industrial processes and operations to net zero.

Major progress is required to make significant advances in industrial emissions in the UK and EPSRC aims to drive a sustainable industrial future, shifting the UK away from environmentally detrimental industries and processes to more sustainable and circular alternatives.

This is a pre-announcement, and the information may change. The funding opportunity will open on 20 June 2024. More information will be available on this page by then.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the Eligibility of your organisation.

EPSRC standard eligibility rules apply. For full details, visit EPSRC’s eligibility page.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service.

For full details, visit Eligibility as an individual.

International applicants

Under the UKRI and Research Council of Norway Money Follows Cooperation agreement a project co-lead (international) (previously co-investigator) can be based in a Norwegian institution.

Businesses are not eligible applicant organisations as part of this funding opportunity, they are expected to be listed as project partners.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI.

What we're looking for

Aim

Major progress is still required to make sufficient advances in industrial emissions in the UK as identified by the Climate Change Committee (CCC). Through this funding opportunity, we aim to drive a sustainable industrial future, shifting the UK away from environmentally detrimental industries and processes to more sustainable and circular alternatives.

This funding opportunity will focus on an existing critical mass of research to deliver a cross-sectoral systems approach, working closely with industry and policy-makers to scale up, drive impact and translation and ensure the entire system delivers.

The objectives of this funding opportunity are to:

  • support one virtual centre of excellence that enables high-greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting UK incumbent industries to shift towards sustainable operations with net zero/negative GHG emissions, enabling thriving biodiversity, economic and societal resilience, employment growth and resource & energy security
  • advance the UK’s transition to net zero by building on previous UKRI investments (such as the Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge and Transforming Foundation Industries Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programmes, as well as programmes such as National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research (NICER) Programme​)
  • deliver excellent, leading-edge engineering and physical sciences and transdisciplinary research

Scope

This funding opportunity will focus on delivering directly against the Sixth Carbon Budget by 2030 and will grow the UK research capability in how to:

  1. scale up sustainability solutions and technologies and ‘learn by doing’ through partnering with active demonstration and deployment programmes across the UK; and
  2. do this with a true ‘systems approach’, where the interdependencies between decarbonisation, circular economy and resource & energy efficiency are truly understood and optimised for the most sustainable and inclusive outcome possible.

The outcomes of this investment will enable:

  • industry to shift their products, systems and services to clean alternatives, which in turn will lead to sustainable skills, jobs and wealth creation in the industrial heartlands of our nations and regions
  • security of UK supply of feedstocks, materials, fuels, and the creation of value from waste through greater circularity of resource streams in the UK (approaches for which could include industrial symbiosis)
  • creation of new jobs, businesses, supply chains and industries that exploit (or leverage and build upon) UK research strengths
  • influence on emission reductions
  • ability to supply both UK needs and export sustainable solutions and products to the rest of the world.

The virtual centre of excellence will:

  • build a transdisciplinary, inclusive team covering the essential engineering, physical sciences and other requisite areas, focused on a clear strategic vision
  • create a critical mass centre to act as a focal point for industry to share common challenges
  • explore the associated engineering & physical sciences and other interdisciplinary research questions
  • deliver a stakeholder, specifically industry, co-created programme of research that directly advances the UK’s net zero transition
  • look at all aspects of sustainability rather than individual challenges such as decarbonisation and circularity in isolation.
  • deliver outputs such as:
    • technologies, products, and processes to reduce our demand on fossil fuels, including resource & energy efficiency improvements, diversification and security of energy supply and defossilisation of feedstocks
    • new, scalable, and commercially viable low and zero emission alternative technologies and (where appropriate) processes
    • solutions for the breadth of our energy intensive industries which are cross-industry with cross-sector impact
    • synthesis and consolidation of current research to inform industry and policy in near term
    • facilitation of ‘learning by doing’ with industry demonstrators, deployments and lessons learned cycles

Sectors

For the purposes of this funding opportunity, ‘Industry’ refers to those UK incumbent energy-intensive industries ,as defined by the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, which are:

  • metals and minerals
  • chemicals
  • food and drink
  • paper and pulp
  • ceramics
  • glass
  • oil refineries
  • less energy-intensive manufacturing, including the manufacturing of vehicles, wood products, pharmaceuticals and electronics, among other such industries.

Any research area or technology is in scope as long as it can be justified in how it will facilitate the outcomes articulated in this funding opportunity.

This investment should not solely focus on the discovery and development of individual technologies but on the integration and application of these technologies as a system to support the transition to more sustainable industrial processes and operations. It is expected that this investment should collaborate with other major programmes that are focused on technology discovery and development where appropriate (for example, hydrogen, nuclear fission, advanced manufacturing)

Industry engagement and co-creation

A key aspect required of the Centre is true co-creation with industry from the outset, where stakeholders collaborate around emerging opportunities and quick wins in order to meet the needs of industry now as well as in the future. To ensure that research outcomes can be exploited by industry, we are looking for clear evidence of genuine, substantive partnerships, with co-creation and co-delivery of projects and activities. As well as this expectation for co-creation from the outset, the Centre should welcome new and additional industry engagement at any time throughout the lifetime of the investment and have a clear strategy and framework to support this.

The investment should explore ‘learning by doing’ as far as possible by collaborating with industry to see what works and partnering with demonstration and deployment programmes as far as possible.

Specific funding opportunity information

There will be £21 million available, with £18m over seven years for ‘core’ funding, and £3 million for years one to three for the first wave. These are the EPSRC contributions which are funded at 80% FEC over seven years.

There will be £18 million core level of funding provided by us, for example to cover:

  • salaries of core team including thought leadership team, postdoctoral research assistants, management team
  • resources for integrating lessons learned and horizon scanning (workshops etc.)
  • a flexible fund to support secondments or agile research on emerging topics and to support the involvement of discrete parts of the community, outside of the centre, that would bring significant benefit to the programme but have not otherwise been engaged
  • governance, monitoring and evaluation activities
  • impact activities (including stakeholder and user engagement, policy engagement and public engagement)
  • networking and community building activities, to enable engagement and collaboration across key disciplines, sectors and investments, and with policy officials
  • travel and subsistence.

Additionally, there will be three waves of funding available to be used for specific research activities.

These waves of funding could, for example, be used to bring in new partners or to respond to specific emerging research needs. Funding for wave one (£3 million in years one to three provided by us) will be included for the successful application and should therefore be accounted for and justified in the full proposal.

Funding for wave two (£2 million in years four to five) and wave three (£2 million in years six to seven) should be conceived based on findings from the Centre’s initial work and will become available in future years following assessment and approval.

Funding will be released for subsequent waves through an assessment process, this will be defined by us and we will retain responsibility for funding decisions throughout. These waves provide a further opportunity to, for example, bring on new partners and funders and respond to new and emerging opportunities.

How to apply

We will publish full details on how to apply when the funding opportunity opens, on the 20 June 2024.

This will be a two-stage application process with an Expression of Interest (EoI) followed by a peer-reviewed full proposal stage. It is mandatory to submit an EoI if you wish to submit a full proposal.

Expression of Interest stage

This will be run on Citizen Space and will be open from 20 June 2024 to 1 August 2024.  The EoI will request the following details:

  • project Lead name
  • core team names
  • industry partners and description of how the programme is/will be co-created
  • the vision for the programme and a brief description of how you will achieve that vision

Deadline

We must receive your EoI by 4:00pm UK time on 1 August 2024. You will not be able to apply after this time.

Facilitation and brokerage workshop

All the submitted EoIs will be published on the funding opportunity web page. This will enable us to facilitate and broker introductions and relationships between EoI’s to create more inclusive and robust full proposals, as well as merge and come together where appropriate.

We will facilitate a virtual brokerage workshop on 18 September 2024 between all applicants. It is expected that all project leads will attend.

The full proposal stage will close in November 2024.

How we will assess your application

We will publish full details on the assessment process when the funding opportunity opens, on the 20 June 2024.

Expression of interest stage

The expression of interest stage will not be peer reviewed or assessed, the aim of this stage is to gauge volume of applications, to look for areas of complementarity across the applications and to help broker relationships between applicants to encourage collaboration rather than competition by enabling proposals to merge where appropriate.

The full proposal stage will encompass peer review as well as an interview panel to take place in March 2025 (to be confirmed).

In the event of this funding opportunity being substantially oversubscribed as to be unmanageable, we reserve the right to modify the assessment process, for example by adding a panel sift process.

Assessment criteria

The criteria we will assess your application against are:

  • Vision and Approach
  • Applicant and team capacity to deliver
  • Co-creation and stakeholder engagement
  • Resources and costs
  • Ethics and responsible research and innovation

Contact details

Get help with your application

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Helpdesk is committed to helping users of the UKRI Funding Service as effectively and as quickly as possible. In order to manage cases at peak volume times, the Helpdesk will triage and prioritise those queries with an imminent opportunity deadline or a technical issue. Enquiries raised where information is available on the Funding Finder opportunity page and should be understood early in the application process (for example, regarding eligibility or content/remit of an opportunity) will not constitute a priority case and will be addressed as soon as possible.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

For questions related to this specific funding opportunity please contact energyanddecarbonisation@epsrc.ukri.org

Any queries regarding the system or the submission of applications through the Funding Service should be directed to the helpdesk.

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org

Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

To help us process queries quicker, we request that users highlight the council and opportunity name in the subject title of their email query, include the application reference number, and refrain from contacting more than one mailbox at a time.

Find out more about submitting an application.

Sensitive information

If you or a core team member need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, please contact TFSchangeEPSRC@epsrc.ukri.org

Include in the subject line: [the funding opportunity title; sensitive information; your Funding Service application number, if applicable].

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • individual is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the ‘Applicant and team capability’ section
  • conflict of interest for UKRI to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection
  • the application is an invited resubmission

For information about how UKRI handles personal data, read UKRI’s privacy notice.

Additional info

Background

This funding opportunity aligns to the net zero priorities of EPSRC, UK Research and Innovation and Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

EPSRC

The goal of EPSRC’s Engineering Net Zero strategy is to invest in research and innovation critical to the discovery, development and deployment of technologies and solutions to increase the speed of the deliverability of net zero and to shift us away from environmentally detrimental industries and processes to more sustainable and circular alternatives. This includes pioneering new technologies and the rapid scaling and evolution of current technologies. This funding opportunity delivers against the ‘tackling the biggest emitters’ strand of this strategy and will span Energy & Decarbonisation as well as Manufacturing and the Circular Economy and other theme interests.

UKRI

This funding opportunity delivers to UKRI’s Strategy 2022 to 2027: Transforming Tomorrow Together, to support world-class ideas, advancing the frontiers of human knowledge and innovation by enabling the UK to seize opportunities from emerging research trends, transdisciplinary approaches and new concepts and markets.

Research disruption due to COVID-19

We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver and career development of those individuals included in the application. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

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