Durham is leading the way on Decarbonising Heat


One of N8 Research Partnership’s member universities has won funding for three major new projects on decarbonising heat.

The Durham Energy Institute projects will develop new technology and processes to decarbonise heating and cooling across residential, business and industry sectors, to significantly reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions.

Over half of UK energy demand is used to produce heat – it is the largest energy demand and largest emitter in terms of greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes, cooking and catering, hot water and space heating in domestic and commercial settings. Over 60% of the gas used in the UK is used for heat.

If the UK is to achieve its aim of reaching net-zero carbon by 2050, decarbonising heat will be essential.  

Although there is an increased focus on decarbonisation of heat by shifting from gas to electrification, this will not be enough. The huge scale and dramatic seasonal fluctuations of energy demand for heat cannot be met by electricity infrastructure alone.

Innovative approaches to decarbonising heating will be essential; identifying new heat sources, developing new technologies, reducing waste heat, identifying ways to re-use heat and options for storage.

The 3 new projects, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will drive forward the path to decarbonised heat in UK  and further positions Durham Energy Institute as a leader in this area.


A network for Heating and Cooling

Durham University will lead the £1.16 million international research and innovation network on behalf of UKRI which will bringing together researchers, technology developers, managers and policy makers to facilitate learning, share progress and new knowledge, and to fund new research projects for decarbonising heating and cooling.

The network is led by Dr Andrew Smallbone, and managed by Dr Janie Ling ChinDr Huashan Bao will lead Theme 1 on Primary engineering technologies and systems for decarbonisation. All three are DEI Fellows from our Engineering Department, with DEI Director Professor Jon Gluyas (Earth Sciences) as Co-investigator.

A wide range of universities, industrial bodies and governance organisations are also partners in the project including BEIS, Energy Systems Catapult, European Energy Research Alliance, Durham County Council, GE (General Electric Company), E.ON Energy Solutions Ltd, North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), Narec Distributed Energy.


Seasonal solar energy storage and heat pump system

The £1.04 million project will develop seasonal storage of solar energy so that it is harvested in the summer and available to heat homes and businesses in the winter. The new system developed aims to be able to provide heating at near zero carbon intensity, with carbon emissions that are approximately 92% and 85% lower than current gas boiler and electric heat pump technology.

The 3 year project is being led by DEI Fellow Dr Zhiwei Ma and co-investigators Professor Tony Roskilly and Dr Huashan Bao from Durham University, and researchers at the University of Chester.

Solar energy can provide both electricity and heat without greenhouse gas emissions. However, in the UK only 1% of the renewable heat from solar potential is used, as heating is less in demand when the sun is shining. Using thermal energy storage with solar panels would mean the heat from the sun can be stored and used when heating is needed.

Because the UK is far from the equator, we experience relatively weak solar radiation and significant fluctuation in heat over the seasons. We therefore need to develop seasonal solar energy storage that can effectively store abundant but relatively low temperature UK solar heat in summer, and utilise this at the desired temperature for space and hot water heating in winter.

This will mean almost all of the solar resource can be used for space and hot water ‘zero-carbon’ heating.

This project will develop the technology for a very novel hybrid heat pump system which couples solar thermal and electrical energy conversion, producing a win-win solution. The advanced hybrid thermochemical sorption and vapour compression processes will enhance the efficiency, capability and flexibility of solar energy storage and heat pumping (Solar S&HP).


Decarbonising low temperature industrial process heat

DELTA PHI is a £2m, three year project led by Loughborough University with Universities of Durham, London South Bank, Warwick, Ulster, and Birmingham. The Durham team includes Durham Energy Institute (DEI) Director Professor Tony Roskilly and DEI Fellow Dr Zhiwei Ma.

The project will explore ways to use heat and waste heat more effectively within industrial processes, as well as exporting heat to meet demands in the neighbouring area. This will allow significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in industrial production and has the potential to provide an additional revenue source.

The provision of low temperature industrial process heat in 2018 was responsible for over 30% of total industrial primary energy use in the UK. The majority of this, 75%, was produced by burning oil, gas and coal. Solutions to reduce waste heat and re-use this thermal energy will therefore have a significant impact on UK greenhouse emissions.

Low temperature process heat is a major component of energy use in many industrial sectors including food and drink, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, manufacture of metal products and machinery, printing, and textiles.

Durham will develop an energy network using a liquid desiccant solution as the energy transportation media. Waste heat at different temperatures will be harvested at multiple locations by regenerating the desiccant solution; energy will be stored in the form of the absorption potential of the substance and distributed over long distances with minimum energy loss; the energy can then be released where it is needed at different sites for use in dehumidification and cooling.