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Sheffield University opens new leading research centres focusing on energy

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The global energy sector is set to benefit from opening of new world-leading engineering research centres at the University of Sheffield which will work with businesses to carry out initial research then translate it into new technologies to power innovation and increase productivity.
Sheffield University opens new leading research centres focusing on energy
Sheffield University

The £47 million pound development is part-funded by European Regional Development Fund and UK Research and Innovation and The University of Sheffield. Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry MP, and Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis MP, officially opened the centres which aim to boost Sheffield City Region’s reputation as a hub for advanced engineering and industrial digital technologies.

As part of their visit, the Minister and Mayor were given a tour of the new centres by Professor Mike Hounslow, Vice-President and Head of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield. Professor Hounslow highlighted some of the successful partnerships between the Centres and industry.

The centres - the Royce Translational Centre (RTC), the Laboratory for Verification and Validation (LVV), and the Integrated Civil and Infrastructure Research Centre (ICAIR) -  are located within the heart of the Sheffield City Region’s Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, a key element of the emerging Global Innovation Corridor that stretches across the Sheffield City Region. The centres are aiming at research that helps to cut costs and lead times which will revolutionise industrial processes.

One of the Centres, the Laboratory for Verification and Validation, is working with Siemens on a project to improve the UK’s offshore wind power technologies and to look at the lifespan of components of offshore wind turbines, using modelling and testing to predict how and when failures might occur.

The LVV is a unique facility for conducting vibration and acoustic testing across length scales and climatic environments, scaling up to real-world industrial application. It’s one of the only openly accessible research facilities of its kind in the world.

In addition to being able to study the dynamic behaviour of substantial engineering structures in both expected and extreme conditions, LVV is also focusing on the validation of computer models, which is crucial for both the design and continued safe use of critical structures and components, such as wind turbines out in the North Sea. They can enable the development of more efficient, lower cost and more robust products to extend life span and predict how failures may occur.

The LVV has a wave tank facility that enables the generation of deep water wave conditions. In it, they can carry out scaled tests to develop crucial validation methodologies for the digital twins under development in the sector.

The Dynamics Research Group (DRG) in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield is a lead partner in the £7.6 million Prosperity Partnerships research project to improve the country’s offshore wind power technologies.

The offshore wind project will see the University of Sheffield and collaborating universities, Durham and Hull, partnering with Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and DONG Energy, the world’s largest offshore wind (OSW) developer, on a five-year programme to address problems that will help to reduce the cost of electricity from offshore wind. The EPSRC project has received £3.8 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and £2.5m from Siemens and DONG, with the rest being made up by the three universities.

The DRG’s research responds to the industrial drive and academic need to create, for the first time, automatic, online and continuous technologies for damage detection, location, severity assessment and prognosis in offshore wind structures and systems. The need is particularly pressing for the blades, where structural health monitoring (SHM) technology currently remains at an embryonic stage.

The LVV facility has the capability to test components of offshore wind turbines, such as blade root sections and bearings, as well as conduct scaled foundations tests within its wave tank. The LVV’s Multi-Axis Shake Table has the ability to test generator components of wind turbines, and combined with the large environmental chambers it will allow testing of different sensor technologies under operational and environmental conditions on blade components.

LVV’s work with Ramboll Energy, again through the DRG, supports industrial PhD projects in the field of Nonlinear System Identification for Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) of offshore structures. Through this project and future projects, the LVV will be used to develop model validation methodologies for offshore structures under controlled and changing environmental conditions. One of the major obstacles preventing the wider use of SHM Systems is their inability to distinguish environmental variations from structural damage and structural changes with confidence and accuracy. However, the LVV enables testing at this scale, which could be of huge benefit to the energy sector.

The manufacturing and processing of metals to form components is one of the largest industrial sectors. Metals production consumes about 5 percent of global energy use and is responsible for an annual emission of over 2 gigatonnes of CO2, so efficiency in manufacture can produce significant reductions in environmental impact. The move towards low carbon technologies will rely heavily on the invention of new materials that are stronger, lighter, requiring less material to the used for the application, and have lower manufacturing carbon footprints. 

The Royce Translational Centre (RTC) will address the key themes of materials discovery and resource efficient materials manufacture for the energy sector. The Centre will develop novel, bespoke alloys in small powder batches using its range of state-of-the-art powder production equipment.

The three world-leading translational research facilities are each housed in custom designed prestigious new buildings, creating 3,000 square metres of high-technology facilities at an investment of £47 million part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Each one builds upon the UK’s scientific research leadership to equip industry in these key priorities of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

The site is already home to the University of Sheffield’s world-leading Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) Factory 2050 - the UK’s first state-of-the-art reconfigurable factory, as well as aerospace giant Boeing’s new fabrication facility.

The work taking place at the three new centres builds on the experience and expertise of the nearby University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre which works with partners such as Boeing, Rolls Royce and Airbus to help improve productivity, de-risk investment decisions, and accelerate the early adoption of industrial digital technologies to improve performance and quality.

The Minister praised the transformative work taking place and how it will allow businesses to gain access to university research expertise and use industrial digital technologies such as AI and robotics.

“At the University of Sheffield we deliver pioneering interdisciplinary research and find solutions to global challenges” said Professor Mike Hounslow, Vice-President and Head of the Faculty of Engineering. “The three centres launched today build on this established expertise and firmly place us as a key partner for industry. The capabilities of the centres will enable us to test and operate on an industrial scale, translating theory into application to improve productivity, cost efficiencies and innovation across a broad range of sectors.”

Royce Translational Centre (RTC)

The University of Sheffield is one of the founding partners of the Henry Royce Institute, the UK National Centre for Research and Innovation of Advanced Materials.

The Henry Royce Institute is a key driving force of the Northern Powerhouse and the investment of £235m is addressing the new-materials requirement of the Industrial Strategy

The Royce Translational Centre is home to Royce@Sheffield and the metals research group of AMRC, the National Metals Technology Centre (NAMTEC)

Royce@Sheffield is one of the ‘spokes’ of the Henry Royce Institute and its work at the RTC is accelerating the benefits to industry in the field of Advanced Metal Processing including: net shape aerospace components and lightweight solutions for transport

Laboratory for Verification and Validation (LVV)

This world-leading facility will enable research into the optimal design and operation of advanced engineering structures when exposed to real-world vibration and environmental conditions. The facilities allow testing of both full structures (such as automobiles) and  substantial substructures and components of aircraft and wind turbines.

Funding for LVV was announced (on 29 July 2015) by then Prime Minister David Cameron during a Northern Powerhouse trade mission to Malaysia and Singapore.

Experimental data, computer modelling and machine learning will allow industry to produce lighter, safer designs for a range of industrial sectors, including energy, aerospace and automotive.

Supports the government’s Industrial Strategy drive for faster accessibility of these benefits for industry.

Integrated Civil and Infrastructure Research Centre (ICAIR)

Unique experimental facilities for investigating both underground and above ground constructed infrastructure.

Brings the power of optimisation, data, AI, robotics and advanced manufacturing techniques to the field of infrastructure to increase productivity in this sector, a key target of the Industrial Strategy.

Hosts the National Distributed Water Infrastructure Facility, part of the ‘UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure & Cities’ (UKCRIC), understanding how to make the nation’s infrastructure more resilient to extreme events and more adaptable to changing circumstances. ICAIR has been part-funded by the UKCRIC programme.

The new advanced engineering centres are part-funded by ERDF, which is administered via the Ministry for Houses, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and UKRI from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

For additional information:

University of Sheffield

Laboratory for Verification and Validation (LVV)

Royce Translational Centre (RTC)

Integrated Civil and Infrastructure Research Centre (ICAIR)

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