If the UK is to meet its Net Zero targets by 2050, the renewable energy sector will need to innovate, and innovate fast, to ensure supply keeps up with demand as we move away from traditional fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, towards cleaner energy such as nuclear, wind and solar. To meet this demand, and continue to showcase the UK as a leader in environmental engineering, there needs to be an even greater focus on Power Electronics, Machines and Drives (PEMD) technology.

PEMD – the most important acronym most people have never heard of – are the enabling technologies that will make electrification possible, at scale, that will make clean energy affordable and accessible for all.

Totalling nearly £80 million, UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Driving the Electric Revolution challenge – a government-funded programme – is investing into these electrification technologies to support the up-scale of PEMD Manufacturing.

The challenge aims to:

  • Leverage the UK’s world leading research capability in PEMD to help industry create the supply chains necessary to manufacture the PEMD products developed here. (is this line from a previous alert – it feels a bit clunky)
  • Identify gaps in the supply chains and help industry fill them
  • Ensure cooperation and collaboration so we don’t duplicate effort, waste time and can reuse solutions across all sectors
  • Help fill the skills gap by retraining, upskilling and repurposing engineers from traditional internal combustion businesses into PEMD supply chains.

It is the UK’s most important intervention into PEMD. Providing funding opportunities for collaboration between SMEs, big businesses and academia to create innovative and cost-effective solutions and establishing ‘best-in-class’ industrialisation facilities to create robust and resilient UK supply chains.

Thanks to UKRI, the Driving the Electric Revolution challenge has already invested in 40 ground-breaking PEMD projects, many with clear links to the energy sector with more funding successes yet to be announced.

One program that has benefitted from this funding is the Development of PEMD for Nuclear Coolant Systems.

In support of broader government objectives towards electrification and Net Zero carbon emissions, nuclear is viewed as a critical part of the UK’s plans for producing future clean electricity. This project, aided by consortia members at the University of Sheffield and Hayward Taylor Limited, includes the design and supply of electric pumping machinery, forming part of the primary nuclear safety systems of upcoming Small Modular Reactors, with specific consideration for UK capability in low and zero cobalt metals.

The Development of PEMD for Nuclear Coolant Systems project will support initial conceptual design through to a theoretically proven drive system designed specifically for Small Modular Reactor Cooling Pumps. The knowledge and experience acquired during this project will provide a framework to engage with UK suppliers on specific product designs facing the same issue, with the overall goal of establishing a motivated UK-based supply chain that is suited for future nuclear applications.

The GreenSpur Wind Project for the development of coil winding and magnet assembly manufacturing processes showcases another funding success, producing rare-earth-free wind turbine generators that are set to revolutionise wind power.

All wind turbine Permanent Magnet Generators (PMGs) use conventional designs that rely on one key material, rare-earth magnets. GreenSpur, has invented and patented a new and highly innovative approach, with a PMG that substitutes scarce and expensive rare earth magnets for cheap and abundant ferrite magnets. The long-term vision of GreenSpur’s project, in partnership with The University of Warwick, is to stimulate the development of a UK supply chain and manufacturing network that can build multi-MW generators for the UK wind market.

As a result of their CGI project, GreenSpur has seen multiple orders of their ferrite-based designs from Californian wind turbine developer, Wind Harvest International, further highlighting the demand for cleaner and greener innovations.

Another project that has benefited from UKRI funding is the WIND Electric Revolution (WINDER) project that aims to bring the manufacture of large generators for offshore wind to the UK. With the involvement of stakeholders such as Magnomatics Limited and Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the Magnomatics Pseudo Direct Drive (PDD(r)) combines a magnetic gear with a permanent magnet generator. The PDD is extremely efficient and very reliable with no meshing gear teeth.

Magnomatics will develop computer-based modelling software which can then be used to design robust PPRs including dynamic modelling of the pole piece loads to predict wear and possible erosion of the composite structure. These methods will be validated using the new test data from the ORE Catapult. A virtual product validation will also be performed on concept designs to ensure the PPR achieves the expected product lifetime of 25+ years.

With wind turbine generator unit volumes expected to reach 800 units per annum, it is essential that PPRs are manufactured within the UK to drive down costs, rather than import these technologies from overseas. The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), at the University of Sheffield, is providing input and support to Design for Manufacture (DfM) of the PPR to achieve this outcome.

Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult showcased the project, sharing this video to highlight Catalysing Green innovation.