Steel Structures

Department of Civil & Structural Engineering

University of Sheffield Receives £4.4m funding for Engineering Grand Challenges research


Two of the new research projects announced by the Science Minister, Jo Johnson today [16th October] will be led by engineers at the University of Sheffield, tackling some of the major challenges facing science and engineering in the UK.

The projects, worth a total of £4.4m, form part of seven new ‘Engineering Grand Challenges’ research programmes supported by £21m funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Matteo Rubinato, Postdoctoral Researcher in Sheffield's Department of Civil and Structural Engineering labs

The £3.9m TWENTY 65 (Tailored Water to Ensure sustainability beyond 2065) research project, involving six universities and 26 companies from across the UK water sector, will ensure the UK maintains a clean, sustainable water supply for the future. It will tackle key challenges in the sector, including population growth, ageing infrastructure and climate change.

The academic partners – the Universities of Sheffield, Exeter, Manchester and Reading, Newcastle University and Imperial College London - will undertake research across eight technical themes, focusing on demand based technologies, social practices, water energy systems to minimise carbon emissions and the use of robotic autonomous systems for infrastructure inspection and repair.

The project will also create a Hub involving ten water companies, their supply chain and academic researchers to encourage shared idea generation, strategic roadmapping, networking, innovation stimulation and research leadership. 

This combination of multi-disciplinary academic research and collaborative work with the UK water sector will enable the TWENTY 65 project team to lead UK and international transformation in the sustainable supply of safe water.

Professor Joby Boxall, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering and Director of Sheffield Water Centre, who will head the TWENTY 65 project, said: “Water supply is the foundation of society, but a service we are privileged to be able to take for granted in the UK. There is no single solution to the sustainable supply of safe clean water for the future. Our vision is that by 2065, collaborative innovation has generated a water sector that is delivering sustainable tailored water solutions that positively impact on public health, the environment, the economy and society.

“New approaches and models for collaborative working across the water sector are an essential part of the project. We have support pledged from over 50 partners and will be looking to get more organisations on board.”

“This is a truly unique and exciting opportunity to take a long-term view of how we can develop and implement technology to deliver transformative change.”

The second Sheffield-led project is a new network which aims to improve performance and resilience within the complex engineered systems that underpin modern society, from cities, transport, energy and digital networks to jet engines and space launch systems.

Advancements in mathematics, analytics and predictive modelling have improved our understanding of complex natural systems, such as climate, economics and health, but this has yet to be applied in a concerted way to complex engineered systems. The new network, known as Engineering Complexity Resilience Network Plus (ENCORE) – led by the University of Sheffield – will bring together UK research expertise in these fields with policymakers and system designers and managers, to enable more effective management of risk and uncertainty in complex engineered systems.

Professor Martin Mayfield, from Sheffield’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, who will head the new network, said: : “Systems such as transport or energy infrastructure, or digital networks, tend to evolve over time and be designed and managed from the bottom up, looking at individual components rather than the system as a whole. But as complex engineered systems, they can have a tendency to behave in counterintuitive ways, so it’s impossible to really understand and manage the risk and uncertainty – and essentially avoid serious failures – unless you are able to think about the ‘system of systems’ as a whole.

“Through ENCORE, we want to apply this systems approach to areas such as transport, energy and aerospace, so we’re able to improve how complex systems in these sectors function and improve their adaptive capacity. We want to understand what these systems share, so solutions we identify can be more easily adapted for application in different sectors.”

ENCORE has already gained the support of major aerospace and digital companies and national infrastructure managers and will involve academics from 18 UK universities. Working with Professor Mayfield to oversee the network will be Dr Liz Varga from Cranfield University, Professor Massimiliano Vasile from the University of Strathclyde and Professor Alan Purvis from Durham University.

We are also a partner in a third project announced today. As part of a consortium led by Loughborough University, the SYMETA - SYnthesizing 3D METAmaterials for RF, microwave and THz applications – research programme will develop a new way of designing and fabricating high frequency communications circuitry.

SYMETA’s research has the potential for significant academic, economic, societal and environmental impacts. With rapid advancements in the development of metamaterials, the possibilities for innovative applications across many sectors are significant. Industries that could benefit from the research include aviation, space, healthcare and the military.

Professor Ian Reaney, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, will lead the project at Sheffield.

All of the projects announced today were developed in response to an EPSRC call in early 2015 which set out four Engineering Grand Challenges, developed through a two day event involving academics from many disciplines, representatives from industry and government.