DecarboN8 - An integrated network to decarbonise transport

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Institute for Transport Studies


The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 highlighted the need for urgent, transformative change, on an unprecedented scale, if global warming is to be restricted to 1.5C. The challenge of reaching an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 represents a huge technological, engineering, policy and societal challenge for the next 30 years. This is a huge challenge for the transport sector, which accounts for over a quarter of UK domestic greenhouse gas emissions and has a flat emissions profile over recent years.

The DecarboN8 project will develop a new network of researchers, working closely with industry and government, capable of designing solutions which can be deployed rapidly and at scale. It will develop answers to questions such as:
1) How can different places be rapidly switched to electromobility for personal travel? How do decisions on the private fleet interact with the quite different decarbonisation strategies for heavy vehicles? This requires integrating understanding of the changing carbon impacts of these options with knowledge on how energy systems work and are regulated with the operational realities of transport systems and their regulatory environment; and
2) What is the right balance between infrastructure expansion, intelligent system management and demand management? Will the embodied carbon emissions of major new infrastructure offset gains from improved flows and could these be delivered in other ways through technology? If so, how quickly could this happen, what are the societal implications and how will this impact on the resilience of our systems?

The answer to these questions is unlikely to the same everywhere in the UK but little attention is paid to where the answers might be different and why. Coupled with boundaries between local government areas, transport network providers (road and rail in particular) and service operators there is potential for a lack of joined up approaches and stranded investments in ineffective technologies. The DecarboN8 network is led by the eight most research intensive Universities across the North of England (Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York) who will work with local, regional and national stakeholders to create an integrated test and research environment across the North in which national and international researchers can study the decarbonisation challenge at these different scales.

The DecarboN8 network is organised across four integrated research themes (carbon pathways, social acceptance and societal readiness, future transport fuels and fuelling, digitisation, demand and infrastructure). These themes form the structure for a series of twelve research workshops which will bring new research interests together to better understand the specific challenges of the transport sector and then to work together on integrating solutions. The approach will incorporate throughout an emphasis on working with real world problems in 'places' to develop knowledge which is situated in a range of contexts. £400k of research funding will be available for the development of new collaborations, particularly for early career researchers. We will distribute this in a fair, open and transparent manner to promote excellent research.

The network will help develop a more integrated environment for the development, testing and rapid deployment of solutions through activities including identifying and classifying data sources, holding innovation translation events, policy discussion forums and major events to highlight the opportunities and innovations. The research will involve industry and government stakeholders and citizens throughout to ensure the research outcomes meet the ambitions of the network of accelerating the rapid decarbonisation of transport.

Planned Impact

Our ambition for the DecarboN8 network goes well beyond opening up new scientific boundaries. The network has been designed with stakeholders to support a pan-northern collaboration of governmental stakeholders tasked with implementation. By promoting collaboration we aim to support an ecosystem where data is better integrated and more easily shared and where experimentation is embraced and, as a result, adoption accelerated. Through this we aim to make the North a place where industries and academics come to undertake decarbonisation research, development and deployment in dialogue with civil society and publics around social requirements, social innovation and wider societal concerns.

DecarboN8 has already begun the process of collaborative development of the network programme through three stakeholder workshops (Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle). These have shaped the research needs which the network should address but also how the network will operate. In particular, we have established:
- A stakeholder reference group which will meet seven times over the course of the network. This will ensure innovations are understood and critically reviewed from the perspective of citizens, decision-makers and businesses from the outset and this is used to impact design of options.
- A data mapping and support role for the network which will create a structured data set mapping with stakeholders so that it is clear what data is available to share and where it is held. This will also help with identification of data gaps and needs. Two hackathons are also planned to help with the task of integrating data sets across boundaries.
- The Transport Systems Catapult. will lead three innovation translation events to bring together industrial stakeholders, local and national government partners engaged in decarbonisation in the North of England. The idea of these events is to stimulate new collaborations which lead to proposals to grow innovation funding in the region and deliver recognisable change at higher TRL and SRL levels. This is an important part of creating an ecosystem of fundamental research development through to deployment. Experimentation will create further opportunities for academic learning alongside innovation deployment lessons.

A searchable database of experts will be joined together by the DecarboN8 network coordinator which will allow sharing of experiences and more rapid learning across sites. As indicated above, data in the region will also be mapped and tagged with meta data to enable greater data sharing and use in collaborative projects. Two hackathons to join up data sets will be run.

We will deliver policy impact by making sure our research is grounded in places and therefore addresses the issues of deploying innovations. Six 'Policy Cafés' will be run, each twice across the region. In the first six months, two policy briefings will be produced, one on "Carbon targets for transport in the North" and the second on "Decarbonising Transport: Quick Wins" which will incorporate the initial workshop outcomes and network member knowledge. In Year 2 the policy briefings will be about working across boundaries to promote greater understanding between transport and energy policy makers and practitioners (in time to influence the Ofgem RIIO Framework) and across stakeholders evaluating decisions across modes, technologies and scales in conjunction with Transport for the North. In Year 3 there is flexibility to adapt but we anticipate briefings on critical actions to promote societal readiness and on policy options - both must do and must stop doing.

A quarterly newsletter will be produced for the network to update members on upcoming calls, events, and outputs. In addition, regular website and social media updates will be released to disseminate call, events and outputs to a wider audience.


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