Aston University to train UK’s next-gen decarbonisation experts

Aston University will be training the UK’s next generation of green scientists, thanks to a huge injection of funding. A consortium led by the University, is to receive almost £11million to open a doctoral training centre, which will focus on leading the UK towards net zero.

Aston University to train UK’s next-gen decarbonisation experts

The centre, based at Aston University, will bring together world-leading research expertise and facilities from the University of Nottingham, Queens University Belfast and the University of Warwick and more than 25 industrialist partners.

The funding has been announced by the Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan. The centre is to receive almost £8million of government money with the remainder being made up through match funding, and support from industry and the four universities. The Government has described it as part of the UK’s biggest-ever investment in engineering and physical sciences doctoral skills, totalling more than £1 billion.

The Aston University centre will focus on use of biomass to replace fossil fuels and removal (or capture) of CO2 from the atmosphere, with the potential to create new sources of fuels and chemicals. Integration of these two areas will lead to significant cost and energy savings.


Called NET2Zero, the centre will train PhD students across the full range of engineered greenhouse gas removal techniques including direct air capture, CO2 utilisation (including chemical and material synthesis), biomass to energy with carbon capture and storage and biochar.

The students will work in the centre’s laboratories exploring the conversion of feedstock into alternative energy, improving conversion processes and measuring how the new technologies will impact the economy.

Supported by a range of relevant industrial, academic and policy partners the centre will equip students to develop the broad range of skills essential for future leaders in decarbonisation.

NET2Zero will be led by Professor Patricia Thornley, director of Aston University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI).

She said: “I am delighted that this centre for doctoral training has been funded. The climate emergency is so stark that we can no longer rely on demand reduction and renewables to meet our decarbonisation targets.

“If we are to have greenhouse gas removal options ready in time to be usefully deployed, we need to start now to expand our knowledge and explore the reality of how these can be deployed. This partnership of four leading UK universities with key industrial and policy partners will significantly augment the UK’s ability to deliver on its climate ambitions.”

Technology leaders of the future

“We are absolutely delighted to be working with our partners to deliver this unique and exciting programme to train the technology leaders of the future. Our students will deliver research outcomes that are urgently needed and only made possible by combining the expertise and resources of all the centre’s academic and industry partners.”

Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said: “As innovators across the world break new ground faster than ever, it is vital that government, business and academia invests in ambitious UK talent, giving them the tools to pioneer new discoveries that benefit all our lives while creating new jobs and growing the economy.

 “By targeting critical technologies including artificial intelligence and future telecoms, we are supporting world class universities across the UK to build the skills base we need to unleash the potential of future tech and maintain our country’s reputation as a hub of cutting-edge research and development.”

Overall, there will be 65 new Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) which will support leading research in areas of national importance including the critical technologies AI, quantum technologies, semiconductors, telecoms and engineering biology. The funding is from a combination of £500 million from UK Research and Innovation and the Ministry of Defence, plus a further £590 million from universities and business partners.