Big Ideas for a Net-Zero future


Our Big Ideas programme will deliver £800 million to the regional economy and at least 4,400 high quality jobs.

Investing for a greener future

The Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), brings together nine Midlands research intensive organisations and a research community of nearly 1500 energy researchers, with a mission to deliver regional impact in energy and interconnected systems. With an initial funding of £60 million, ERA has delivered well beyond its original expectation, creating 23 new research facilities, securing £120 million of industrial funding and close to £450 million of total value in terms of new investments in energy R&D.

Working with partners, ERA has identified many of the major national and regional energy challenges. We believe that we can provide significant future economic growth and stimulate the creation of new, high-skilled jobs. This process, called the “Big Ideas” has identified six major themes and a further four cross-cutting activities to support the ideas.

We are seeking funding of £155 million to undertake our proposal - an investment that will deliver £800 million to the regional economy and create at least 4,400 high quality jobs.

Aligning with policy and regenerating the region

Our Big Ideas programme also strongly supports the following national and regional policy objectives:

  • Post Covid-19 Economic Growth: Through the development of 6,800 jobs and delivery of £1.5 billion GVA into the region
  • Helping meet Net-Zero objectives: Supporting national and local net-zero objectives, utilising the Midlands as a 'living lab' with solutions that can be applied across the UK
  • Levelling up R&D spend: ERA-2 enables investment at scale across the Midlands, helping to level up the regional shortfall in R&D spend
  • Delivering Science and Technology Expertise: Enabling the UK to gain global leadership in energy technology and resilience
  • Improving Air Quality: Our programme will support the update of renewable technologies, electric vehicles and hydrogen, reducing harmful  emissions. 

A proven track record


Our six 'Big Ideas' for ERA Phase 2

The six Big Ideas that we are proposing for ERA phase 2 are:

1. National Centre for Energy Storage Scale-Up and Demonstration

Aim: Accelerating the development of energy storage through integration into the next generation of energy from waste facilities

This programme will hot house an integrated system of thermal and electrical energy storage to accelerate technology development but also develop a deeper understanding of how to integrate a range of storage technologies with energy generation.

The National Facility for Energy Storage Scale Up and Demonstration would integrate the academic expertise and early stage R&D with the scale-up and demonstration facilities. A key component of the facility would be the integration of a range of thermal and electrical storage systems, with a range of characteristic storage timescales and response times. A key output would be to understand the optimal energy storage system based on a range of technology and the interaction of the different components.

The National Facility for Energy Storage will create:

  • A cluster for businesses developing energy storage systems and energy technologies and a launchpad for businesses to commercialise technologies
  • Facility for manufacturing energy storage systems and materials
  • Next generation energy services on-site as part of the EfW plant, greater flexibility of electricity and energy delivery and potential to maximise the commercial return on the EfW development
  • Flexible low cost energy generation of electricity and heat to cluster low-carbon business
  • Energy systems and low-carbon energy skills and training
2. National Centre for the Decarbonisation of Heat

Aim: Supporting the delivery of the decarbonisation of heat for the UK housing retrofit sector 

Recognising this is the premier challenge for the UK reaching net-zero and that integration of capability and expertise into a single centre is needed to move things forward, ERA and partners have developed a proposal for a national centre in the Midlands.

Based at the Tyseley Energy Park in Birmingham, the National Centre for Decarbonisation of Heat would be driven by a consortium of the ERA academic institutions, the Energy Systems Catapult, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, business, green finance consumer groups and standards associations. The aim would be to develop a coherent delivery plan, work with local government in the region and beyond to develop and deliver solutions and to establish and coordinate a number of regional heat delivery pilot schemes (‘living labs’). 

The National Centre for Decarbonisation of Heat will result in:

  • Manufacturing acceleration
  • Heat skills academy
  • Business support and innovation accelerator
  • Building integration test facility and a community-based living pilot schemes and living-lab
  • Standards and verification facilities
  • Green finance support and pilots
3. City scale digital twins

Aim: To establish two regional city scale demonstrators of digital twins for energy infrastructure development

Digitisation and digital twinning are going to be powerful tools of the development and design of future energy systems, the Energy Research Accelerator will support two pioneering digital twinning programmes in the Midlands with the cities of Birmingham and Nottingham.

This proposal is the development of digital representations of Birmingham and Nottingham. Working with the city councils and industrial partners, the aim is to apply the tools and learning to the creation of digital twins of the energy, transport and resource flows. We will use the expertise of Keele University and the digital twin work they have undertaken with Siemens and Engie, to develop a small town size, digital twin on their campus through the Smart Energy Network Demonstrator, SEND, programme. Our programme also builds on work undertaken through other initiatives such as the Regional Energy System Operator project in Coventry and the Nottingham Trent Basin development.

The digital twins of Nottingham and Birmingham will enable us to improve our understanding of electricity and energy systems, providing the means to plan and predict, and improving decision making at both a  regional and national level.

4. National Centre for low carbon alternative fuels

Aim: To produce, utilise and characterise alternative fuels replacing fossil fuels for road, marine and aviation transport, plus energy production and heating

Building on the Midlands strength in this sector and the need to support the development and delivery of alternative fuels for road, rail and air transport, we are proposing a National Centre for Low-Carbon Alternative Fuels.

The synthesis and adoption of low-carbon fuels is vital, however, standards and regulations apply to many sectors that have been built up over many years to protect downstream equipment, maximising performance, availability and minimising outage time. It is equally important that we confirm the actual carbon reductions being delivered by different alternative heating and transport fuels, what variables will impact on these and what information is needed to support robust regulation of new low-carbon fuels that will ensure wider environmental benefits.

The Low Carbon Alternative Fuels centre will provide life-cycle assessment services to different regulatory standards e.g. REDII or RTFO. It would also work with companies and developers to support achievement of corporate targets around environmental and social responsibility. The Centre would particularly focus on sustainable fuels for transport, with a focus on the aviation and marine sectors, as well as kerosene, methane, and propane substitutes for heating, including BioLPG. 

5: Hydrogen innovation support platform

Aim: To create a Midlands wide hydrogen innovation platform that supports SMEs to deploy hydrogen technologies associated with heating and transport applications 

Utilising the significant expertise both in academia and industry and the facilities within the region such as HyDeploy at Keele and Tyseley Energy Park in Birmingham ERA will develop a hydrogen innovation support platform for businesses associated with hydrogen for heating and transport. This will ensure the Midlands maximises its innovation potential in this key sector.

A Midlands Hydrogen Innovation Support Platform is proposed in order to support and foster the creation of a new hydrogen industrial economy in the Midlands. This will be achieved by working with SMEs, established Midlands-based and UK commercial partners, and multinationals to accelerate innovation, build markets and support the required skills transition. This will create a platform in which the eight university partners associated with ERA, will make available their hydrogen facilities, research capability and expertise, and large-scale hydrogen demonstrators. 

The Midlands Hydrogen Innovation Support Platform will enable:

  • Support for technology development and R&D – using ERA’s research facilities and world-leading expertise
  • Support for IP development and commercialisation
  • Access to large scale demonstrator and test facilities to validate and showcase technology solutions
  • Development of hydrogen skills and expertise in businesses – the skills at the required scale don’t presently exist
  • Civic engagement and policy activities to build local government understanding of hydrogen’s role in net zero
  • Development of pathways and an associated support programme to allow businesses to access international markets
6: Hydrogen freight and logistics

Aim: To establish a series of connected programmes to develop a Midlands Hydrogen Transport System for heavy vehicles from trucks to buses and trains

The Midlands is key for the UK’s transportation. It is at the heart of the UK’s road and rail networks and as such it offers unchallenged accessibility to the UK’s population with around 90% being within 4 hours travel time. We propose to build on the leading role ERA has taken in developing the pioneering H2GVMids programme, which will establish the foundations for the roll out of 44 tonne hydrogen trucks across the Midlands. 

The ERA universities have taken a leading role in the development of hydrogen technology and infrastructure. Within the partnership there is expertise in hydrogen fuel cells, with the development of fuel cell powered cars, boats, houses and trains and projects such as HyPER, HyDeploy, HydroFLEX and Tyseley Energy Park.  We have also recently been awarded the H2GVMids project by Innovate UK, allowing us to undertake a feasibility study for hydrogen freight across the region, with a view to scaling up to several hundred hydrogen powered 44 tonne trucks.

Through this initiative we will:

  • Work with partners to secure a city scale pilot of hydrogen powered public passenger trains
  • Purchase and trial with a logistics operator and refuelling company, a 44 tonne hydrogen truck
  • Work with the Humber ports, East Midlands Airport, Midlands Connect to develop projects which would establish hydrogen-based freight logistics to and from key Midlands locations, building on the outcomes of the H2GVMids programme
  • Develop the first stage pilot of the East Midlands Hydrogen Innovation Zone
  • Create the Midlands hydrogen transport stakeholder group and develop a joined-up regional plan for hydrogen transport. engagement and policy activities to build local government understanding of hydrogen’s role in net zero

The Impact
The Midlands Hydrogen Freight and Public Transport System aims to break the ‘chicken-and-egg’ impasse connected with the inability to deploy hydrogen transport due to a lack of refuelling infrastructure and the block on deploying refuelling infrastructure because there is not the ‘market pull’. The hydrogen-for-transport pilot programmes will demonstrate to the industry how hydrogen is a viable, affordable and practical alternative to fossil fuels. 

Cross-cutting themes supporting the Big Ideas

Our cross-cutting themes support all of our Big Ideas. providing and accelerating support for small businesses, helping to support national and regional policy and also developing 'living-labs' where innovative energy projects can be demonstrated at a commercially viable scale. Our themes include:

Cross Cutting Theme 1:   Regional Energy Evidence and Facilitation Team

Aim: To provide support to policy-makers at a local, regional and national scale

ERA proposes to continue to play a strong role in supporting local decision making associated with the energy transition and developing regional policy. ERA commits to continuing to develop and influence regional and national policy and support regional decision making around energy planning. ERA will work in tandem with its partners the Energy Systems Catapult, Energy Capital, Midlands Energy Hub and Midlands Engine.

The programme will have two threads:

  • Development of an ERA-led Regional Energy Evidence and Facilitation programme (REEF)
  • Focussed Policy Commissions on regional and national areas of importance
Cross Cutting Theme 2: Cleantech Business Support

Aim: To support the development of SMEs in low-carbon sectors, delivering exports, sales and jobs growth.

The ERA partnership will build on its existing track record to deliver targeted programmes aimed at continuing to deliver substantial economic growth. These activities will:

  • Grow business support and incubation opportunities across the Midlands
  • Support access to the 23 ERA Phase 1 facilities across the partner institutions
  • Use existing demonstration facilities to act as specialist hubs to provide a focus for commercialisation and deployment of integrated solutions
  • Stimulate investment into energy, low-carbon and sustainable products through reltaitonships with investors, business angels, banks and finance professionals.
  • Support the development of business cases through workshop analysis of markets, risks and returns.
Cross Cutting Theme 3: Knowledge Exchange from Living Laboratories

Aim: To utilise the living lab concept, building on the existing demonstrators, developing further large-scale demonstrators and living labs

A key feature of ERA programme has been the integration of large-scale demonstration of energy systems and energy technologies, and we have identified a number of different living labs and demonstrators that we would support:

  • University Campus Living Labs and Demonstrators, such as Keele University
  • Community Living Labs and Demonstrators such as Trent Basin
  • Energy Parks such as Tyseley Energy Park, Rugeley and Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Stations
  • Major transport Living Labs, such as Birmingham International and East Midlands Apirports.
  • Rural Network Living Labs and City Network Living Labs 
Cross Cutting Theme 4: ERA Researcher and Sector Skills Programme

Aim: To deliver a sustainable pipeline of future energy leaders and knowledge transfer experts  to support the net-zero transition

The vision for phase 2 of ERA Skills is to ensure the success of the energy revolution through the development of people, by addressing the pressing demand for high-level skills in the energy sector to meet the net-zero carbon and clean growth objectives. The ERA Skills programme will develop the research leaders required to deliver these targets, and will establish the transition pathway required to deliver the innovation and systems integration demanded by net-zero. We are proposing a skills programme from school and undergraduate level, to doctoral and post-doctoral researchers as well as supporting technical and CPD activities.

In addition, whilst it is recognised that the skills agenda for the wider energy sector is a substantial activity in its’ own right, ERA will work in collaboration with other key stakeholders to:

  • Help identify future needs for apprenticeship and reskilling programmes as the sector transitions.
  • Develop specific skills programmes in particular thematic areas, such as in relation to the need to transform the provision of heat to homes and the likely investment in skills needed to provide a workforce to do this.
  • Develop an Energy Academy which would focus on skills development at the Higher Education/ apprenticeship level where there is a perceived skills gap.

In partnership with industry

ERA's Big Ideas proposal is supported by over 50 businesses from across the UK from SMEs through to major corporates. We also enjoy the support of the Midlands Engine, local authorities and the Connected Places Catapult, Energy Systems Catapult and Manufacturing Technology Centre. Some of our industrial partners are:


Our research and innovation partners

ERAresearch partners          


ERA continues to support the Midlands Engine as we work with local and regional bodies on regional energy strategy and infrastructure development. Particular regional challenges include:

  • New local models for energy investment and markets
  • Strategic investments
  • Energy infrastructure to underpin housing, industry and electric vehicles, as well as the issues of clean air and fuel poverty
  • Demand side management
  • Energy storage

ERA was heavily involved in the development of the Midlands Engine's Ten Point Plan for Green Growth.  Our proposal complements the aims of the Midlands Engine and closely aligns with the 10 point plan. 


The downloads below provide more information about ERA, our projects and our impact:

Video - an introduction to ERA

The impact of ERA - a regional innovation case study

Into the Next ERA - our partners and projects


National Centre Decarbonisation of Heat

Decarbonising heat is THE biggest energy challenge facing the UK. ERA's proposed National Centre for Decarbonisation of Heat will help to tackle it.

ERA Phase 2 proposal