Thermal Energy Challenge Network

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Engineering


Tackling climate change, providing energy security and delivering sustainable energy solutions are major challenges faced by civil society. The social, environmental and economic cost of these challenges means that it is vital that there is a research focus on improving the conversion and use of thermal energy. A great deal of research and development is continuing to take place to reduce energy consumption and deliver cost-effective solutions aimed at helping the UK achieve its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Improved thermal energy performance impacts on industry through reduced energy costs, reduced emissions, and enhanced energy security. Improving efficiency and reducing emissions is necessary to increase productivity, support growth in the economy and maintain a globally competitive manufacturing sector.
In the UK, residential and commercial buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of the UK's total non-transport energy use, with space heating and hot water accounting for almost 80% of residential and 60% of commercial energy use. Thermal energy demand has continued to increase over the past 40 years, even though home thermal energy efficiency has been improving.

Improved thermal energy conversion and utilisation results in reduced emissions, reduced costs for industrial and domestic consumers and supports a more stable energy security position. In the UK, thermal energy (heating and cooling) is the largest use of energy in our society and cooling demand set to increase as a result of climate change. The need to address the thermal energy challenge at a multi-disciplinary level is essential and consequently this newly established network will support the technical, social, economic and environmental challenges, and the potential solutions. It is crucial to take account of the current and future economic, social, environmental and legislative barriers and incentives associated with thermal energy. The Thermal Energy Challenge Network will support synergistic approaches which offer opportunities for improved sustainable use of thermal energy which has previously been largely neglected. This approach can result in substantial energy demand reductions but collaboration and networking is essential if this is to be achieved. A combination of technological solutions working in a multi-disciplinary manner with engineers, physical scientists, and social scientists is essential and this will be encouraged and supported by the Thermal Energy Challenge Network.

Planned Impact

Industry and business will benefit through knowledge transfer of innovative technology, best practice and behaviour related research to improve thermal energy management. The result will be advanced development, reduced fuel costs, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improving efficiency to allow them to provide thermal energy management solutions into a growing international market. Industry and business will also benefit from the opportunity to engage with researchers in order to input to inform future research strategies, identify challenges and communicate their needs and real/perceived barriers. Government and policy makers are increasingly aware of the technological, social and environmental challenges of future energy supply and demand and sustainability targets. They will benefit by having the opportunity to input their identified knowledge gaps and requirements into the international research effort. They will receive relevant information and data which will provide relevant insight and aide decision making and help shape future energy policy. Benefits will be gained from the knowledge transfer of robust technical, social and economic solutions from the academic community. The forecast of future need and identification of challenges taking account of barriers, incentives, trade-offs and opportunities to exploit effective thermal energy management across sectors will support policy and regulatory interventions. Academic researchers will benefit from the Network through the opportunity to disseminate research outcomes as widely as possible via an array of pathways as outlined in the proposal, including presentation at the conferences and journal publication in special issues. Academic researchers will also benefit from the availability of a centralised resource library on the website and the opportunity to engage with a wide range of international stakeholders. The general population will benefit as the technical, economic, social and sustainable solutions disseminated through the Network will ultimately result in reduced energy bills and this will contribute towards tackling the important issue of fuel poverty. Society as a whole will also benefit from the positive impact due to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The Network website will provide open access to progress reports, research publications and advertise activities, such as conferences, forums and workshops. It will also provide general information about thermal energy challenges and important results in a way that is accessible and interesting to the non-research community. It will host a dedicated secure section for research outcomes and other confidential data. By organising international conferences, this pathway would provide an important opportunity for the research community (private and public) to reach a wide audience of other researchers, industry and policymakers. The Network will produce full length conference proceedings. High impact journals, such as Applied Energy, will be engaged to produce Special Editions resulting from the conferences. The Special Editions will be an efficient means to extend the impact to a wider group of audience and stimulate future work. The Network will establish strong links with UK, European and worldwide networks and Research Centres in order to disseminate research activity. A number of forums and workshops will be run strategically at different locations in the UK to facilitate effective engagement and communication among the stakeholders. Future need, research challenges and strategies will be identified by gathering feedback via questionnaires and interactive sessions at the Network events.


10 25 50
Description A Network for Heating and Cooling Research to Enable a Net-Zero Carbon Future (H+C Zero Network)
Amount £1,159,698 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T022906/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2020 
End 09/2024
Description A network for hydrogen-fuelled transportation (Network-H2)
Amount £966,315 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S032134/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 09/2023
Description UK-India Foundation Industries Sustainable Thermal Energy Management Collaboration (UK-India FI-SusTEM Collaboration)
Amount £79,923 (GBP)
Funding ID 10019361 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2021 
End 03/2022