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Year 8 students work with Cambridge researchers to help their peers learn about the census

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on May 13, 2021.

Researchers from Cambridge’s Department of Geography and Year 8 students in Wales have worked together to produce a series of learning resources based on census data, showing how the country has changed over time.

The materials, including worksheets and a series of podcasts, are freely available for teachers to incorporate into their lessons.

Year 8 students from Radyr Comprehensive School and Pontarddulais Comprehensive School in Cardiff worked with Dr Alice Reid and colleagues from Cambridge, Leicester and Edinburgh Universities, to co-produce a learning resource about exploring the census in the past and present. They explored the Populations Past and Data Shine websites to discover facts about their local area and compared them with other parts of England and Wales.

After exploring the websites, the students drew up a set of interview questions to ask experts on historical and recent censuses, including the former National Statistician, Dame Jil Matheson. These interviews were recorded as podcasts.

The collaboration is part of the ‘Engaging the Public in Census 2021 project’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation. This project teaches students about the relevance of the census and provides insight into being a data-driven social scientist.

“The students were really responsive and thoughtful,” said Reid. “We had originally thought they would be most interested in their local areas, and while some of them were, they all seemed fascinated by the comparative aspects, both over time and between places, and they easily grasped the idea of letting the patterns in the data guide them to interesting questions which we could then explore with them.”

Students were particularly interested in what life was like for children their age in other eras. Today young people have to stay in full-time education until they are 18, but in the middle of the nineteenth century, school was not compulsory. The first Education Act in 1870 established local school boards which could build and manage schools, and the 1880 Education Act made school compulsory between the ages of 5 and 10 years. However, the continued need to pay fees until 1891 meant that not all children could afford to attend school. Children not at school may have been earning money or doing housework at home.

Imogen, one of the students who took part, said, “I find it interesting how children aren't allowed to work the same jobs now as kids did in 1861 and 1911. Did the government think that it was ok to let children work?”

Lewys, another student, said: “I find this information interesting because it shows a clear link between history and data, and how it affects people’s lives.”

One of the teachers involved in the project said: “An important part of the new curriculum in Wales is to embed the history of the local area into our study. It also combines History, Geography and RE as an all-around humanities subject. This project was the perfect combination of Geography and History and we will definitely be building the data into our curriculum in the future.”

“We were keen to work with Key Stage 3 students on this project in order to demonstrate the power and relevance of the social sciences,” said Reid. “The process of creating the material in collaboration with students inspired us to interrogate and explore our data in different ways which we are planning to build into our research programme.”

“I think it was really important to work with students on the project to gain insight into what they found most interesting about the census and to develop learning resources that were student-centred and responded to their needs and interests,” said Sophy Arulanantham from the Department of Geography. “This will help inform our work with schools and the development of further resources in future.”

Initial findings from the 2021 Census, which took place in March, are expected in March 2022, with a final release due in March 2023.

Year 8 students work with Cambridge researchers to help their peers learn about the census.

I find this information interesting because it shows a clear link between history and data, and how it affects people’s lives
Lewys, Year 8 student

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3D holographic head-up display could improve road safety

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Apr 26, 2021.

Researchers have developed the first LiDAR-based augmented reality head-up display for use in vehicles. Tests on a prototype version of the technology suggest that it could improve road safety by ‘seeing through’ objects to alert of potential hazards without distracting the driver.

Growing Underground

By lw355 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Mar 29, 2021.

In the heart of London there is a farm like no other. It's subterranean, sustainable and energy smart. It also has a digital twin looking out for its every need.

World-first sustainable office retrofit begins at new CISL headquarters

By Anonymous from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Mar 09, 2021.

Entopia Building

The Entopia Building, a retrofitted 1930s Telephone Exchange at 1 Regent Street, Cambridge, will be transformed over the next 10 months into an ultra-low carbon sustainability hub, and new home for CISL as it scales up business, government and academic leadership, collaboration and innovation to accelerate the inclusive global transition.

The building will house CISL’s Cambridge-based staff, currently spread across five buildings, and provide a dynamic virtual hub for its offices in Brussels and Cape Town, partner organisations in China, Australia and the UAE, its global corporate partners, alumni, fellows, associates, researchers and visiting academics.

A dedicated Accelerator and Sustainability Hub will support small businesses and start-ups via collaborations, capacity building and knowledge transfer between industry experts, researchers, and major companies.

The Entopia Building is the vision of CISL Founder Director Dame Polly Courtice who has led the Institute for more than 30 years - inspiring companies, policymakers and civil society leaders to take leadership for sustainability.

Dame Polly Courtice, Founder Director, CISL said: “CISL’s new HQ at The Entopia Building will exemplify and enable our mission to support and inspire the leadership and innovation we need to transition to sustainable economy. Our aim is to create a highly collaborative and sustainable workspace to bring together Cambridge’s academic and innovation communities with our network of companies and sustainability leaders to accelerate solutions to global sustainability challenges.”

The Entopia Building aims to be an international exemplar for sustainable office retrofits, demonstrating how an existing office building can be made highly energy efficient in its redevelopment and use, while supporting the enhanced wellbeing of staff and visitors. The building will also provide a base for the Institute’s digital learning programmes which reach more than 4,000 executives each year through remote learning. High tech video conferencing facilities and collaborative digital platforms will enable its network of 16,000 alumni, fellows and associates to collaborate and engage with its work remotely.

In 2019 the University of Cambridge became the first university in the world to adopt a 1.5 degrees Science Based Target for carbon reduction, committing itself to reduce its energy-related carbon emissions to absolute zero by 2048, with an ambition to achieve this by 2038 - a decade early. In 2020 the University announced it aims to divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030 as part of its ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions across its investment portfolio by 2038.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge said: “The Entopia Building will become the most sustainable premises in the University of Cambridge estate, marking a major contribution to our world-leading target to eliminate our emissions and putting the wellbeing of its occupants – and wider society - at its heart.”

The £12.8m retrofit has been supported by a £6m donation from green tech leaders Envision Group and a £3m grant from the European Regional Development fund (ERDF), which is also funding the operation of a sustainability hub and small business and start-up accelerator for three years. The University has invested its own funds in the project alongside an internal grant from its internal Energy & Carbon Reduction Project.

The building name references the Entopia concept developed by Envision Group to shape a future where access to clean, secure and affordable energy is available to all.

Lei Zhang, Founder and CEO, Envision Group said: “Envision Energy is pleased to support the University of Cambridge in making the Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s new headquarters an exemplar sustainability retrofit of international importance. We hope this project will lead others to be bolder in pursuing the goal of net zero as they invest in upgrading the world’s buildings and infrastructure.”

Eighty percent of UK buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been built, so although it is easier to develop new properties with high sustainability credentials, a major challenge for societies will be to retrofit existing building stock to meet climate change targets, and ensure they are fit for purpose in the future.

As a world-first, The Entopia Building aims to achieve multiple sustainable building certifications, including BREEAM (Outstanding), the Passivhaus ‘Enerphit’ standard, Well (Gold) certification, alongside the application of ‘circular economy’ principles to minimise the volume and impact of natural and made-made resources used in the building.

The project brief was developed by CISL’s Professor John French, who previously led the design and build of the award-winning Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia, which is demonstrably one of the most sustainable office buildings in the UK. The Entopia Building aims to open to staff by the end of 2021.

Prof. John French, Senior Advisor, CISL said: “Delivering the vision of The Entopia Building project is only possible through leadership and collaboration that puts sustainability objectives top of the list of priorities, and constantly innovates to achieve it, while not compromising cost, quality or timeline. We hope this building will provide an exemplar for the built environment, as the world moves to meet its Paris Agreement ambition to limit global warming to 1.5C.”

Sustainability benchmarks for The Entopia Building:

  • The deep green retrofit is projected to result in an 80% saving in whole-life carbon emissions (over 10,000 kg CO2e), compared to a standard office refurbishment.

  • The retrofit will be carried out according to EnerPHit, the Passivhaus standard for refurbishment and one of the most stringent standards for energy retrofits. It will deliver 75% lower heating demand in comparison to an average office building, and airtightness at more than five times that required by building regulations.

  • The Entopia Building is on track to gain world-leading sustainability and wellbeing certification from BREEAM (Outstanding) and the WELL Building Standard (Gold).

  • The project is one of the first to reuse lighting from another building refurbishment, re-testing and re- warrantying more than 350 LED lights that were then reinstalled in The Entopia Building.

  • Leftover furniture in the building has been diverted from landfill, avoiding 21,000 kg of CO2, with 21,600 kg of chairs, tables and storage cabinets donated to local communities. A third of the building’s paint needs have been covered by a donation from Dulux of paint made from 35% recycled paint content.

The project is being delivered through the University’s Estates Division by a team of leading sustainability-focused firms in the architectural, main contractor, project management and engineering disciplines, who understand the need for deep collaboration and innovation to achieve stretching sustainability targets.

CISL intends to share the case study of the exemplar high sustainability retrofit project for use in the wider building sector, both within and outside higher education. In this way, The Entopia Building will contribute to CISL’s mission to develop and provide leadership for a sustainable economy, paving the way for wider change in how buildings are commissioned, managed and delivered to align with global and local sustainability ambitions.

Alexander Reeve, Sustainable Building Advisor, Estates Division, University of Cambridge said: “The project is an exciting pathfinder project for the University Estate, as we refine our strategy to eliminate fossil natural gas as a fuel for our many older buildings. It demonstrates that there is a way to transition to low carbon heating while conserving Cambridge’s outstanding built heritage.”

Adapted from a CISL press release.

The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has announced the start of works on its new visionary headquarters. This world-first for a retrofitted sustainable office building will set new standards for low energy use, carbon emissions and impact on natural resources as well as user experience and wellbeing.

Entopia Building exterior

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Globalised economy making water, energy and land insecurity worse: study

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Oct 26, 2020.

Iowa County Drought

Countries meet their needs for goods and services through domestic production and international trade. As a result, countries place pressures on natural resources both within and beyond their borders.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge used macroeconomic data to quantify these pressures. They found that the vast majority of countries and industrial sectors are highly exposed both directly, via domestic production, and indirectly, via imports, to over-exploited and insecure water, energy and land resources. However, the researchers found that the greatest resource risk is due to international trade, mainly from remote countries.

The researchers are calling for an urgent enquiry into the scale and source of consumed goods and services, both in individual countries and globally, as economies seek to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. Their study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, also invites critical reflection on whether globalisation is compatible with achieving sustainable and resilient supply chains.

Over the past several decades, the worldwide economy has become highly interconnected through globalisation: it is now not uncommon for each component of a particular product to originate from a different country. Globalisation allows companies to make their products almost anywhere in the world in order to keep costs down.

Many mainstream economists argue this offers countries a source of competitive advantage and growth potential. However, many nations impose demands on already stressed resources in other countries in order to satisfy their own high levels of consumption.

This interconnectedness also increases the amount of risk at each step of a global supply chain. For example, the UK imports 50% of its food. A drought, flood or other severe weather event in another country puts these food imports at risk.

Now, the researchers have quantified the global water, land and energy use of 189 countries and shown that countries which are highly dependent on trade are potentially more at risk from resource insecurity, especially as climate change continues to accelerate and severe weather events such as droughts and floods become more common.

“There has been plenty of research comparing countries in terms of their water, energy and land footprints, but what hasn’t been studied is the scale and source of their risks,” said Dr Oliver Taherzadeh, who led the research while a PhD student in Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “We found that the role of trade has been massively underplayed as a source of resource insecurity – it’s actually a bigger source of risk than domestic production.”

To date, resource use studies have been limited to certain regions or sectors, which prevents a systematic overview of resource pressures and their source. This study offers a flexible approach to examining pressures across the system at various geographical and sectoral scales.

“This type of analysis hasn’t been carried out for a large number of countries before,” said Taherzadeh. “By quantifying the pressures that our consumption places on water, energy and land resources in far-off corners of the world, we can also determine how much risk is built into our interconnected world.”

The authors of the study linked indices designed to capture insecure water, energy, and land resource use, to a global trade model in order to examine the scale and sources of national resource insecurity from domestic production and imports.

Countries with large economies, such as the US, China and Japan, are highly exposed to water shortages outside their borders due to their volume of international trade. However, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Kenya, actually face far less risk as they are not as heavily networked in the global economy and are relatively self-sufficient in food production. 

In addition to country-level data, the researchers also examined the risks associated with specific sectors. Surprisingly, one of the sectors identified in Taherzadeh’s wider research that had the most high risk water and land use – among the top 1% of nearly 15,000 sectors analysed – was dog and cat food manufacturing in the USA, due to its high demand for animal products.

“COVID-19 has shown just how poorly-prepared governments and businesses are for a global crisis,” said Taherzadeh. “But however bad the direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19 have been, climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and resource insecurity are far less predictable problems to manage – and the potential consequences are far more severe. If the ‘green economic recovery’ is to respond to these challenges, we need radically rethink the scale and source of consumption.”

Reference:
Oliver Taherzadeh et al. ‘Water, energy and land insecurity in global supply chains.’ Global Environmental Change (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102158

The first large-scale study of the risks that countries face from dependence on water, energy and land resources has found that globalisation may be decreasing, rather than increasing, the security of global supply chains.

By quantifying the pressures that our consumption places on water, energy and land resources in far-off corners of the world, we can also determine how much risk is built into our interconnected world
Oliver Taherzadeh
Iowa County Drought

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Planting ideas: Botanic Garden opens access with living collections portal

By ta385 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Oct 02, 2020.

A new web portal to Cambridge University Botanic Garden's entire living collection, 14,000 plants, aims to open access and fast-track urgent global research.

Green energy and better crops: tinted solar panels could boost farm incomes

By jg533 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Aug 04, 2020.

Greenhouse with tinted solar panels

By allowing farmers to diversify their portfolio, this novel system could offer financial protection from fluctuations in market prices or changes in demand, and mitigate risks associated with an unreliable climate. On a larger scale it could vastly increase capacity for solar-powered electricity generation without compromising agricultural production.

This is not the first time that crops and electricity have been produced simultaneously using semi-transparent solar panels – a technique called ‘agrivoltaics’. But in a novel adaptation, the researchers used orange-tinted panels to make best use of the wavelengths - or colours - of light that could pass through them.

The tinted solar panels absorb blue and green wavelengths to generate electricity. Orange and red wavelengths pass through, allowing plants underneath to grow. While the crop receives less than half the total amount of light it would get if grown in a standard agricultural system, the colours passing through the panels are the ones most suitable for its growth.

“For high value crops like basil, the value of the electricity generated just compensates for the loss in biomass production caused by the tinted solar panels. But when the value of the crop was lower, like spinach, there was a significant financial advantage to this novel agrivoltaic technique,” said Dr Paolo Bombelli, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, who led the study.

The combined value of the spinach and electricity produced using the tinted agrivoltaic system was 35% higher than growing spinach alone under normal growing conditions. By contrast, the gross financial gain for basil grown in this way was only 2.5%. The calculations used current market prices: basil sells for around five times more than spinach. The value of the electricity produced was calculated by assuming it would be sold to the Italian national grid, where the study was conducted.

“Our calculations are a fairly conservative estimate of the overall financial value of this system. In reality if a farmer were buying electricity from the national grid to run their premises then the benefit would be much greater,” said Professor Christopher Howe in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, who was also involved in the research.

The study found the saleable yield of basil grown under the tinted solar panels reduced by 15%, and spinach reduced by around 26%, compared to under normal growing conditions. However, the spinach roots grew far less than their stems and leaves: with less light available, the plants were putting their energy into growing their ‘biological solar panels’ to capture the light.

Laboratory analysis of the spinach and basil leaves grown under the panels revealed both had a higher concentration of protein. The researchers think the plants could be producing extra protein to boost their ability to photosynthesise under reduced light conditions. In an additional adaptation to the reduced light, longer stems produced by spinach could make harvesting easier by lifting the leaves further from the soil.

“From a farmer’s perspective, it’s beneficial if your leafy greens grow larger leaves - this is the edible part of the plant that can be sold. And as global demand for protein continues to grow, techniques that can increase the amount of protein from plant crops will also be very beneficial,” said Bombelli.

“With so many crops currently grown under transparent covers of some sort, there is no loss of land to the extra energy production using tinted solar panels,” said Dr Elinor Thompson at the University of Greenwich, and lead author of the study.

All green plants use the process of photosynthesis to convert light from the sun into chemical energy that fuels their growth. The experiments were carried out in Italy using two trial crops. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) represented a winter season crop: it can grow with fewer daylight hours and can tolerate colder weather. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) represented a summer season crop, requiring lots of light and higher temperatures.

The researchers are currently discussing further trials of the system to understand how well it would work for other crops, and how growth under predominantly red and orange light affects the crops at the molecular level.

This research was conducted in partnership with Polysolar Ltd. It was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Italian Ministry of University and Research.

Reference
Thompson, E. et al: Tinted Semi-Transparent Solar Panels allow Concurrent Production of Crops and Electricity on the Same Cropland. Advanced Energy Materials, 2 Aug 2020. DOI: 10.1002/aenm.202001189

Researchers have demonstrated the use of tinted, semi-transparent solar panels to generate electricity and produce nutritionally-superior crops simultaneously, bringing the prospect of higher incomes for farmers and maximising use of agricultural land.

Our calculations are a fairly conservative estimate of the overall financial value of this system. In reality if a farmer were buying electricity from the national grid to run their premises then the benefit would be much greater
Christopher Howe
Greenhouse with tinted solar panels

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The climate crisis: towards zero carbon

By lw355 from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Feb 26, 2020.

If we are to avoid climate disaster we must sharply reduce our carbon dioxide emissions starting today – but how?

In a new film, Cambridge researchers describe their work on generating and storing renewable energy, reducing energy consumption, understanding the impact of climate policies, and probing how we can each reduce our environmental impact. Alumni Sir David Attenborough and Dr Jane Goodall DBE speak about the climate crisis and reasons for hope.

We hear about the ambitious new programme Cambridge Zero bringing together ideas and innovations to tackle the global challenge of climate catastrophe – and inspiring a generation of future leaders – and how the University is looking at its own operations to develop a zero carbon pathway for the future.

 

Explore more:

Visit our spotlight on Sustainable Earth

Read our Horizons magazine: download a pdf; view on Issuu

Sir David Attenborough, Dr Jane Goodall DBE and leading Cambridge University researchers talk about the urgency of climate crisis – and some of the solutions that will take us towards zero carbon.

There are huge opportunities to getting things right – the only way to operate is to believe we can do something about it – and I truly think we can.
Sir David Attenborough

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Yes

Wind more effective than cold air at cooling rooms naturally

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Nov 20, 2019.

Laboratory experiment of a cross-ventilated room

The researchers found that a temperature difference between inside and outside has a remarkably small effect on how well a room is ventilated when ventilation is primarily driven by wind. In contrast, wind can increase ventilation rates by as much as 40% above that which is driven by a temperature difference between a room and the outdoors. The exact rate of ventilation will depend on the geometry of the room.

The results, reported in the journal Building and Environment, could be used to help designers and urban planners incorporate natural ventilation principles into their designs so that buildings can be kept at a comfortable temperature while using less energy

Heating and cooling account for a significant proportion of energy use in buildings: in the US, this is as high as 50 per cent. In addition, as global temperatures continue to rise, demand for air conditioning – which emits greenhouse gases – rises as well, creating a damaging feedback loop.

Natural ventilation, which controls indoor temperature without using any mechanical systems, is an alternative to traditional heating and cooling methods, which reduces energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Natural ventilation is a low-energy way to keep buildings at a comfortable temperature, but in order to increase its use, we need simple, accurate models that can respond quickly to changing conditions,” said lead author Dr Megan Davies Wykes from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

There are two main types of natural cross-ventilation: wind-driven and buoyancy-driven. Cross-ventilation occurs in rooms that have windows on opposite sides of a room. Wind blowing on a building can result in a high pressure on the windward side and a low pressure at the leeward side, which drives flow across a room, bringing fresh air in from outside and ventilating a room. Ventilation can also be driven by temperature differences between the inside and outside of a room, as incoming air is heated by people or equipment, resulting in a buoyancy-driven flow at a window.

“We’ve all gotten used to having a well-controlled, narrow temperature range in our homes and offices,” said Davies Wykes. “Controlling natural ventilation methods is much more challenging than switching on the heat or the air conditioning, as you need to account for all the variables in a room, like the number of people, the number of computers or other heat-generating equipment, or the strength of the wind.”

In the current study, the researchers used a miniature model room placed inside a flume to recreate the movements of air inside a room when windows are opened in different temperature and wind conditions.

Using the results from lab-based experiments, Davies Wykes and her colleagues built mathematical models to predict how temperature difference between inside and outside affects how well a room is ventilated.

The researchers found that the rate of ventilation depends less on temperature and more on wind. Anyone who has tried to cool down on a hot night by opening the window will no doubt be familiar with how ineffective this is when there is no wind.

This is because in many rooms, windows are positioned halfway up the wall, and when they are opened, the warm air near the ceiling can’t easily escape. Without the ‘mixing’ effect provided by the wind, the warm air will stay at the ceiling, unless there is another way for it to escape at the top of the room.

“It was surprising that although temperature differences do not have a strong effect on the flow of air through a window, even small temperature differences can matter when trying to ventilate a room,” said Davies Wykes. “If there are no openings near the ceiling of a room, warm indoor air can become trapped near the ceiling and wind is not effective at removing the trapped air.”

The next steps will be to incorporate the results into building design, making it easier to create well ventilated, low energy buildings.

The study was part of the MAGIC (Managing Air for Green Inner Cities) project, which is developing computer models for natural ventilation, so that designers can incorporate natural ventilation into city design, reducing demand for energy. The MAGIC project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Reference:
M.S. Davies Wykes et al. ‘The effect of an indoor-outdoor temperature difference on transient cross-ventilation.’ Building and Environment (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2019.106447

The effectiveness of non-mechanical, low-energy methods for moderating temperature and humidity has been evaluated in a series of experiments by researchers from the University of Cambridge.

Natural ventilation is a low-energy way to keep buildings at a comfortable temperature, but in order to increase its use, we need simple, accurate models that can respond quickly to changing conditions
Megan Davies Wykes
A laboratory experiment of a cross-ventilated room (side view)

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The £2 billion vegetable and the agricultural future of the East

By lw355 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Mar 15, 2019.

From crop science to robotics, supply chains to economics, Cambridge University researchers are working with farmers and industry to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and profitability. 

Cambridge researchers supporting world's largest air quality monitoring network in London

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Jan 17, 2019.

Breathe London will use a range of cutting-edge fixed and mobile sensors to build up a real-time, hyperlocal image of London’s air quality.  The data these monitors collect from across the capital will provide an unprecedented level of detail about London’s air quality crisis and deliver new insight into the sources of pollution.

Professor Rod Jones from Cambridge's Department of Chemistry and his group are leaders in the development and use of low-cost air quality sensors, which have been used in projects around the world from Heathrow Airport to Beijing and Dhakar.  They are supporting the Breathe London project by providing their expertise in sensors and through the analysis and interpretation of results from the sensor networks and two Google Street View cars which have been equipped with air pollution monitoring equipment. 

The data generated by this new network will be available for the public to view on an interactive map on the Breathe London website. The map will show Londoners the condition of the air they are currently breathing and allow more accurate pollution forecasting.

The Breathe London project was devised by City Hall and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a global alliance of 90 cities committed to addressing climate change. The project has brought together some of the UK’s top health and scientific experts with leading technology companies and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Baroness Bryony Worthington, Executive Director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said: “The Breathe London partnership is breaking new ground. We’re developing new scientific approaches using the latest technologies to explore London’s air quality in unprecedented detail.

“This will provide information for both the public and decision makers that can help drive better solutions to a problem that affects every Londoner. The support of Mayor Khan, C40 Cities, CIFF and all the partners has been invaluable and together we hope to advance air quality management in London, the UK and cities worldwide."

“By combining fixed and mobile monitors, and by sampling air quality at so many locations, this project paints a far more accurate picture of air pollution across London,” said Jones. “Air pollution is a complex challenge, affected by many different factors, so getting the best possible data is vital. I’m especially looking forward to the possibility of replicating this project in other cities around the world.”

The project is funded by the Clean Air Fund at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and managed by C40 Cities.

Cambridge researchers are using their expertise in air quality sensors to support the new Breathe London project launched by Mayor Sadiq Khan earlier this week.

By combining fixed and mobile monitors, and by sampling air quality at so many locations, this project paints a far more accurate picture of air pollution across London
Rod Jones
Winding through London

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Black researchers shaping the future

By ta385 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Oct 10, 2018.

University of Cambridge researchers

As the UK marks Black History Month, researchers from across the University talk about their route to Cambridge, their inspiration and their motivation.

University of Cambridge researchers

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Location, location, location: researchers develop model to predict retail failure

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Oct 09, 2018.

Using information from ten different cities around the world, the researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, have developed a model that can predict with 80% accuracy whether a new business will fail within six months. The results will be presented at the ACM Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp), taking place this week in Singapore.

While the retail sector has always been risky, the past several years have seen a transformation of high streets as more and more retailers fail. The model built by the researchers could be useful for both entrepreneurs and urban planners when determining where to locate their business or which areas to invest in.

“One of the most important questions for any new business is the amount of demand it will receive. This directly relates to how likely that business is to succeed,” said lead author Krittika D’Silva, a Gates Scholar and PhD student at Cambridge's Department of Computer Science and Technology. “What sort of metrics can we use to make those predictions?”

D’Silva and her colleagues used more than 74 million check-ins from the location technology platform Foursquare from Chicago, Helsinki, Jakarta, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Singapore and Tokyo; and data from 181 million taxi trips from New York and Singapore.

Using this data, the researchers classified venues according to the properties of the neighbourhoods in which they were located, the visit patterns at different times of day, and whether a neighbourhood attracted visitors from other neighbourhoods.

“We wanted to better understand the predictive power that metrics about a place at a certain point in time have,” said D’Silva.

Whether a business succeeds or fails is normally based on a number of controllable and uncontrollable factors. Controllable factors might include the quality or price of the store’s product, its opening hours and its customer satisfaction. Uncontrollable factors might include unemployment rates of a city, overall economic conditions and urban policies.

“We found that even without information about any of these uncontrollable factors, we could still use venue-specific, location-related and mobility-based features in predicting the likely demise of a business,” said D’Silva.

The data showed that across all ten cities, venues that are popular around the clock, rather than just at certain points of day, are more likely to succeed. Additionally, venues that are in demand outside of the typical popular hours of other venues in the neighbourhood tend to survive longer. The data also suggested that venues in diverse neighbourhoods, with multiple types of businesses, tend to survive longer.

While the ten cities had certain similarities, the researchers also had to account for their differences.

“The metrics that were useful predictors vary from city to city, which suggests that factors affect cities in different ways,” said D’Silva. “As one example, that the speed of travel to a venue is a significant metric only in New York and Tokyo. This could relate to the speed of transit in those cities or perhaps to the rates of traffic.”

To test the predictive power of their model, the researchers first had to determine whether a particular venue had closed within the time window of their data set. They then ‘trained’ the model on a subset of venues, telling the model what the features of those venues were in the first time window and whether the venue was open or closed in a second time window. They then tested the trained model on another subset of the data to see how accurate it was.

According to the researchers, their model shows that when deciding when and where to open a business, it is important to look beyond the static features of a given neighbourhood and to consider the ways that people move to and through that neighbourhood at different times of day. They now want to consider how these features vary across different neighbourhoods in order to improve the accuracy of their model.

Reference:
Krittika D’Silva et al. ‘The Role of Urban Mobility in Retail Business Survival.’ Paper presented to the Ubicomp 2018, Singapore, 8-12 October 2018.  http://ubicomp.org/ubicomp2018/program/program.html#s36

Researchers have used a combination of location and transport data to predict the likelihood that a given retail business will succeed or fail. 

One of the most important questions for any new business is the amount of demand it will receive.
Krittika D’Silva
Regent Street

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‘High-yield’ farming costs the environment less than previously thought – and could help spare habitats

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Sep 14, 2018.

Agriculture that appears to be more eco-friendly but uses more land may actually have greater environmental costs per unit of food than “high-yield” farming that uses less land, a new study has found.

There is mounting evidence that the best way to meet rising food demand while conserving biodiversity is to wring as much food as sustainably possible from the land we do farm, so that more natural habitats can be “spared the plough”.   

However, this involves intensive farming techniques thought to create disproportionate levels of pollution, water scarcity and soil erosion. Now, a study published today in the journal Nature Sustainability shows this is not necessarily the case.

Scientists have put together measures for some of the major “externalities” – such as greenhouse gas emission, fertiliser and water use – generated by high- and low-yield farming systems, and compared the environmental costs of producing a given amount of food in different ways.

Previous research compared these costs by land area. As high-yield farming needs less land to produce the same quantity of food, the study’s authors say this approach overestimates its environmental impact.

Their results from four major agricultural sectors suggest that, contrary to many people's perceptions, more intensive agriculture that uses less land may also produce fewer pollutants, cause less soil loss and consume less water.

However, the team behind the study, led by scientists from the University of Cambridge, caution that if higher yields are simply used to increase profit or lower prices, they will only accelerate the extinction crisis we are already seeing.  

“Agriculture is the most significant cause of biodiversity loss on the planet,” said study lead author Andrew Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology. “Habitats are continuing to be cleared to make way for farmland, leaving ever less space for wildlife.”

“Our results suggest that high-yield farming could be harnessed to meet the growing demand for food without destroying more of the natural world. However, if we are to avert mass extinction it is vital that land-efficient agriculture is linked to more wilderness being spared the plough.”

The Cambridge scientists conducted the study with a research team from 17 organisations across the UK and around the globe, including colleagues from Poland, Brazil, Australia, Mexico and Colombia.

The study analysed information from hundreds of investigations into four vast food sectors, accounting for large percentages of the global output for each product: Asian paddy rice (90%), European wheat (33%), Latin American beef (23%), and European dairy (53%).

Examples of high-yield strategies include enhanced pasture systems and livestock breeds in beef production, use of chemical fertilizer on crops, and keeping dairy cows indoors for longer.

The scientists found data to be limited, and say more research is urgently needed on the environmental cost of different farming systems. Nevertheless, results suggest many high-yield systems are less ecologically damaging and, crucially, use much less land. 

For example, in field trials, inorganic nitrogen boosted yields with little to no greenhouse gas “penalty” and lower water use per tonne of rice. Per tonne of beef, the team found greenhouse gas emissions could be halved in some systems where yields are boosted by adding trees to provide shade and forage for cattle.

The study only looked at organic farming in the European dairy sector, but found that – for the same amount of milk – organic systems caused at least one third more soil loss, and take up twice as much land, as conventional dairy farming.

Co-author Professor Phil Garnsworthy from the University of Nottingham, who led the dairy team, said: “Across all dairy systems we find that higher milk yield per unit of land generally leads to greater biological and economic efficiency of production. Dairy farmers should welcome the news that more efficient systems have lower environmental impact.”

Conservation expert and co-author Dr David Edwards, from the University of Sheffield, said: “Organic systems are often considered to be far more environmentally friendly than conventional farming, but our work suggested the opposite. By using more land to produce the same yield, organic may ultimately accrue larger environmental costs.”

The study authors say that high-yield farming must be combined with mechanisms that limit agricultural expansion if it is to have any environmental benefit. These could include strict land-use zoning and restructured rural subsidies.

“These results add to the evidence that sparing natural habitats by using high-yield farming to produce food is the least bad way forward,” added Balmford.

“Where agriculture is heavily subsidised, public payments could be contingent on higher food yields from land already being farmed, while other land is taken out of production and restored as natural habitat, for wildlife and carbon or floodwater storage.”

New findings suggest that more intensive agriculture might be the “least bad” option for feeding the world while saving its species – provided use of such “land-efficient” systems prevents further conversion of wilderness to farmland.

Our results suggest that high-yield farming could be harnessed to meet the growing demand for food without destroying more of the natural world
Andrew Balmford
Harvest

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Cambridge and Nanjing launch strategic collaboration

By ag236 from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Mar 27, 2018.

Professor Stephen Toope, the University of Cambridge’s Vice-Chancellor, today signed an agreement to formalise a strategic partnership with the Nanjing Municipal Government.

The creation of the Cambridge University-Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation will entail the establishment of a joint research centre and the sharing of revenue derived from the commercialisation of intellectual property. It is the University’s first overseas enterprise at this scale.

Funded by Nanjing Municipality for five years in the first instance, the project will have its own dedicated building in Nanjing’s Jiangbei New Area – a pilot urban development based on high levels of technological innovation.

At the heart of the new Centre’s activities will be research into technologies that support a modern 21st century city with integrated IT, health care and building management. Innovations emerging from the Centre will enable the development of 'smart' cities in which sensors – applied at the individual level and all the way through to the level of large infrastructure – will enable sustainable lifestyles.

As well as supporting health and wellbeing in new cities, the new Centre will help deliver efficient energy use through its academic and entrepreneurial activities.

The agreement will fund positions in Nanjing, both academic and management, and will allow Cambridge-based academics to engage with specific, long-term projects in Nanjing. It will also support the establishment of a professorship, based in Cambridge, with responsibility as the Centre’s Academic Director.

The project has been driven by Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, although it is hoped that there will be opportunities to widen participation to other departments and Schools. IP generated by research funded through the Centre will be licensed for commercialisation by the University’s innovation branch, Cambridge Enterprise.

Speaking just before the official signing of the agreement, held at the British embassy in Beijing, Professor Toope said: “This is only the most recent example of our collaboration with Chinese partners – but it is by far the most ambitious to date. And it is very exciting indeed.”

“We see it as an essential part of Cambridge’s contribution to society to tackle some of the great world problems. But we cannot do this on our own. There is a proverb: ‘You cannot clap with just one hand’. To me this means that we can only accomplish great things by working together – which is what we will be doing with Nanjing.”

Mr. Luo Qun, a member of the Standing Committee of Nanjing's Municipal Party Committee, and Deputy Party Secretary of the Party Committee of Jiangbei New Area, added: "We sincerely hope that both sides will rely on this new Centre to push the world's technological frontiers and to promote the integration of science, technology, industry and financial innovation."

The Vice-Chancellor was joined by Professor Sir Mark Welland, Head of the University's Electrical Engineering Division and Master of St Catharine's College. The signing of the agreement was witnessed by H.E. Dame Barbara Woodward, the United Kingdom's ambassador to China.

Knowledge and development

The launch of the Cambridge University-Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation came only a few days after the Vice-Chancellor addressed the annual China Development Forum, in Beijing.

Prof Stephen Toope speaks at CDFSpeaking on the subject of 'Knowledge Capital and development for all', Professor Toope said: "Of all the intangible assets that underpin our knowledge capital, the most precious is people. It is people who generate the new ideas; it is people who ask the searching questions, and collect the relevant data to answer them; it is people who make the discoveries; it is people who bring those discoveries to the market, and create the intellectual property. The conclusion I draw from this is that, for countries and institutions wishing to expand their knowledge capital, the single most important investment is in their human capital."

He singled out equality and diversity as essential to the sustainability of knowledge-based capital, before concluding: “'Knowledge itself is power' is a famous line attributed to one of Cambridge’s most famous graduates – 17th century philosopher Francis Bacon. The question before us – particularly those of us in universities – is how we build and deploy and share all that knowledge for the greater good."

The new joint centre will support innovative research into smart cities and fully integrated urban environments.

We see it as an essential part of Cambridge’s contribution to society to tackle some of the great world problems. But we cannot do this on our own. We can only accomplish great things by working together – which is what we will be doing with Nanjing.
Prof Stephen Toope

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Think of honeybees as ‘livestock’ not wildlife, argue experts

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Jan 25, 2018.

The ‘die-off’ events occurring in honeybee colonies that are bred and farmed like livestock must not be confused with the conservation crisis of dramatic declines in thousands of wild pollinator species, say Cambridge researchers.

Writing in the journal Science, the conservationists argue there is a “lack of distinction” in public understanding – fuelled by misguided charity campaigns and media reports – between an agricultural problem and an urgent biodiversity issue.

In fact, they say domesticated honeybees actually contribute to wild bee declines through resource competition and spread of disease, with so-called environmental initiatives promoting honeybee-keeping in cities or, worse, protected areas far from agriculture, only likely to exacerbate the loss of wild pollinators.

“The crisis in global pollinator decline has been associated with one species above all, the western honeybee. Yet this is one of the few pollinator species that is continually replenished through breeding and agriculture,” said co-author Dr Jonas Geldmann from Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology.

“Saving the honeybee does not help wildlife. Western honeybees are a commercially managed species that can actually have negative effects on their immediate environment through the massive numbers in which they are introduced.

“Levels of wild pollinators, such as species of solitary bumblebee, moth and hoverfly, continue to decline at an alarming rate. Currently, up to 50% of all European bee species are threatened with extinction,” Geldmann said.  

Honeybees are vital for many crops – as are wild pollinators, with some assessments suggesting wild species provide up to half the needed “pollinator services” for the three-quarters of globally important crops that require pollination.

However, generating honeybee colonies for crop pollination is problematic. Major flowering crops such as fruits and oilseed rape bloom for a period of days or weeks, whereas honeybees are active for nine to twelve months and travel up to 10km from their hives.

This results in massive “spillover” from farmed honeybees into the landscape, potentially out-competing wild pollinators. A recent study by the co-author of today’s Science article, Dr Juan P. González-Varo, showed honeybee levels in woodlands of southern Spain to be eight times higher after orange tree crops finish blooming.

“Keeping honeybees is an extractive activity. It removes pollen and nectar from the environment, which are natural resources needed by many wild species of bee and other pollinators,” said González-Varo, also from Cambridge’s Zoology Department.

“Honeybees are artificially-bred agricultural animals similar to livestock such as pigs and cows. Except this livestock can roam beyond any enclosures to disrupt local ecosystems through competition and disease.”

As with other intensively farmed animals, overcrowding and homogenous diets have depressed bee immune systems and sent pathogen rates soaring in commercial hives. Diseases are transferred to wild species when bees feed from the same flowers, similar to germs passing between humans through a shared coffee cup.

This puts added pressure on endangered wild European bee species such as the great yellow bumblebee, which was once found across the UK but has lost 80% of its range in the last half century, and is now limited to coastal areas of Scotland.

Both wild and cultivated pollinators are afflicted by pesticides such as neonicotinoids, as well as other anthropogenic effects – from loss of hedgerows to climate change – which drive the much-publicised die-offs among farmed bees and the decline in wild pollinator species over the last few decades.

“Honeybee colony die-offs are likely to be a ‘canary in the coalmine’ that is mirrored by many wild pollinator species. The attention on honeybees may help raise awareness, but action must also be directed towards our threatened species,” said Geldmann.

“The past decade has seen an explosion in research on honeybee loss and the dangers posed to crops. Yet little research has been done to understand wild native pollinator declines, including the potential negative role of managed honeybees.”

Geldmann and González-Varo recommend policies to limit the impact of managed honeybees, including hive size limits, the moving of colonies to track the bloom of different crops, and greater controls on managed hives in protected areas.

“Honeybees may be necessary for crop pollination, but beekeeping is an agrarian activity that should not be confused with wildlife conservation,” they write. 

Contrary to public perception, die-offs in honeybee colonies are an agricultural not a conservation issue, argue Cambridge researchers, who say that manged honeybees may contribute to the genuine biodiversity crisis of Europe’s declining wild pollinators.

Honeybees are artificially-bred agricultural animals similar to livestock such as pigs and cows
Juan P. González-Varo
Commercial honeybee hives in the Teide National Park, Tenerife, Spain.

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Massive projected increase in use of antimicrobials in animals could lead to widespread antimicrobial resistance in humans

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Sep 28, 2017.

The researchers, from ETH Zürich, Princeton, and the University of Cambridge, conducted the first global assessment of different intervention policies that could help limit the projected increase of antimicrobial use in food production. Their results, reported in the journal Science, represent an alarming revision from already pessimistic estimates made in 2010, pushed up mostly by recent reports of high antimicrobial use in animals in China.

In modern animal farming, large quantities of antimicrobials are used for disease prevention and for growth promotion. “Worldwide, animals receive almost triple the amount of antibiotics that people do, although much of this use is not medically necessary, and many new strains of antibiotic-resistant infections are now common in people after originating in our livestock,” said co-author Emma Glennon, a Gates Scholar and PhD student at Cambridge’s Department of Veterinary Medicine. “As global demand for meat grows and agriculture continues to transition from extensive farming and smallholdings to more intensive practices, the use of antimicrobials in food production will increasingly threaten the efficacy of these life-saving drugs.”

Global policies based on a user fee and stricter regulation could help mitigate those ominous projections. “Under a user fee policy, the billions of dollars raised in revenues could be invested in the development of new antimicrobial compounds, or put towards improving farm hygiene around the world to reduce the need for antibiotics, in particular in low- and middle-income countries,” said Dr Thomas Van Boeckel from ETH Zurich, the study’s first author.

Compared to a business as usual scenario, a global regulation putting a cap of 50 mg of antimicrobials per kilogram of animal per year in OECD countries could reduce global consumption by 60% without affecting livestock-related economic development in low-income countries.

However, such a policy may be challenging to enforce in resource-limited settings. An alternative solution could be to impose a user fee of 50% of the current price on veterinary antimicrobials: this could reduce global consumption by 31% and generate yearly revenues of between US$ 1.7 and 4.6 billion.

An important limiting factor in performing this global assessment was accessing sufficient data on veterinary antimicrobial sales volumes and prices. The present study is based on publicly available data, limited to 37 countries. Representatives from the animal health industry were approach for this study but all declined to share information on antimicrobial sales or prices.  

The research was funded by the program for Adaptation to a Changing Environment, the ETH postdoctoral fellowship program and the European Research Council.

Reference:
Thomas P. Van Boeckel et al. ‘Reducing global antimicrobial use in food animals.’ Science (2017). DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1495

Adapted from at ETH Zurich press release. 

The amount of antimicrobials given to animals destined for human consumption is expected to rise by a staggering 52% and reach 200,000 tonnes by 2030 unless policies are implemented to limit their use, according to new research. 

Worldwide, animals receive almost triple the amount of antibiotics that people do.
Emma Glennon
Expresso Porco

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Opinion: Measures of poverty and well-being still ignore the environment – this must change

By Anonymous from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Aug 04, 2017.

Without nature, humans could be neither healthy nor happy. And yet the natural world can be completely ransacked without causing even a tiny blip on our usual measures of economic progress or poverty.

A major UN environmental meeting recently looked at launching an assessment of the different values that people attribute to nature, and what nature contributes to human societies. However, these high level discussions will be futile unless our measures of societal progress expand to explicitly include what nature does for human well-being and prosperity, especially for poor people.

Nature matters to people’s well-being in many different ways. It obviously provides us with basic needs such as food, clean air and water, as well as protection from environmental hazards. There is also a clear relationship with both physical and mental well-being, especially for those who are fortunate enough to have access to green spaces.

Beyond these instrumental roles, there is also evidence from around the world that nature is a more fundamental contributor to people’s sense of self. It is an integral part of what constitutes well-being, captured for some in the awe-inspiring moments when standing on top of a mountain, the breath-taking view of a beautiful river, or in the feeling of freedom associated with traversing a wide open landscape.

The problem with economic indicators

Despite the value we get from nature, our measures of progress and well-being remain much narrower, focused on what is visible and measurable. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been the most prominent approach since the end of World War II, with GDP seen as a useful snapshot of the state of the economy and people’s well-being. What these figures often hide are those things, like the role of nature, that are not measured in the monetary economy, but are an important part of daily life and can be crucial for sustaining future prosperity.

There are alternatives. One that has gained some momentum is the Inclusive Wealth Index, which takes into account broader measures of human and natural well-being – its most recent assessment suggested that conventional GDP figures had greatly exaggerated growth over the period 1992-2010. In international development, the UN’s Human Development Index and the “multidimensional poverty index” both recognise a larger set of issues, combining material standards with measures of health and education. But they still do not adequately incorporate the role of nature.

Ignoring nature creates some perverse paradoxes. Measured GDP might actually increase as a consequence of a major environmental disaster, because of the economic activity created by the clean up and repair. Meanwhile, the environmental losses themselves don’t show up in economic measures. A country could get rich by cutting down all its primary forests (and many have), but the associated loss of habitat and wild species would not feature in national accounts.

Governments continue to make decisions based on a key set of headline figures. These include GDP and per capita income, which reflect economic prosperity, and, in poorer countries, the extent and incidence of poverty. But we can do better: our ongoing research focuses on developing environmentally-adjusted measures of multidimensional poverty, based on the insight that people are typically poorer when they do not have access to nature.

Our research suggests that failing to consider these missing environmental aspects can result in an incomplete assessment of the multiple dimensions and underlying drivers of poverty. Consequently, the identification of the poor, as well as an understanding of what makes them poor, risks being partial, thereby posing a challenge to addressing poverty adequately.

The current status quo fails people, especially the poor, and also threatens future prosperity by undervaluing nature. Those who benefit from the current approaches are typically global elites who profit from environmental destruction (which goes unrecognised).

The losers are those most dependent on nature for their livelihoods and those especially vulnerable to environmental change. Even if nature is valued, it is typically converted into money equivalents, which favours those who are able and willing to parcel out nature into small commoditised bundles, which can then be sold to the highest bidder. This fails to take into account the views of those who believe that nature matters in other ways or in its own right, who care about the beauty of nature and the sheer joy that it provides to many.

The consequences of neglecting people’s varied views and aspirations have become apparent from recent political events in Europe and the US. Nature matters to our well-being, and people see their relationship with nature in many different ways. Recognising this is a crucial step towards building a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable society.

Judith Schleicher, Postdoctoral Researcher in Conservation, Poverty and Wellbeing, University of Cambridge and Bhaskar Vira, Reader in Political Economy at the Department of Geography and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College; Director, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reference: 
Judith Schleicher et al. 'Poorer without It? The Neglected Role of the Natural Environment in Poverty and Wellbeing.' Sustainable Development (2017). DOI: 10.1002/sd.1692.

Despite the value that humans get from nature, it is not included in measurements of poverty and well-being. Cambridge's Judith Schleicher and Bhaskar Vira say it's about time this changed. 

hike

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Archaeology shows there's more to millet than birdseed

By lw355 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Jul 24, 2017.

Over half of the food consumed by the human race in terms of calories comes from just three species of grain – wheat, rice and maize – yet in biological terms all are highly unnatural. They’ve been bred, generation after generation, to have grains that are super-sized in relation to their stems. This is perfect for maximising crop yields and profits, but not so perfect if growing conditions change in a changing climate.

Professor Martin Jones, Head of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, is far more interested in a group of around 20 species of small-grained cereals that are generically termed millets. They look like wild grasses, don’t need much water, grow quickly and have a good nutritional balance. Yet, until recently, they have been largely overlooked by the Western world as a food source for humans, and are most commonly found in packets of birdseed.

Now Jones has brought attention to this ancient grain as a means of mitigating against the boom–bust nature of harvests. His work has contributed to a growing market in Asia for high-quality millet from Aohan, Inner Mongolia, and the cereal’s potential is attracting interest from big multinational companies.

All of this has come from Jones’ archaeological interest in ancient farming practices. Searching for evidence of millet in the Neolithic, he discovered two key species – broomcorn and foxtail millet – in the prehistoric crop record in Europe, despite both being botanically East Asian. By piecing together the archaeological evidence, it became clear that Asian millets were coming into Europe, and that wheat and barley from Europe were moving into Asia.

“This wasn’t a time when farming was transitioning from hunter-gathering to agriculture,” says Jones. “What we were seeing was a move from single-season, single-crop agriculture to multi-season, multi-crop agriculture.” Hundreds of years ago the Asian millets were being used in flexible and innovative ways, and became among the most geographically widespread crops in the world. By using crops from other regions, the farmers could add another growing season and significantly increase their yields.

Jones’ archaeological work took him to a new site in Aohan when evidence emerged of local millet cultivation in Neolithic times. There, his Chinese colleagues found carbonised particles of foxtail and broomcorn millet dating from 7,700 to 8,000 years ago, which proved to be the earliest record of their cultivation in the world.

But it was his conversations with local farmers that radically altered his perception of the grains. “When we first visited Aohan it could sometimes be hard to tell whether the millet was growing as a crop or as a weed. We asked the locals, and rather than tell us it was a stupid question – that it was irrelevant whether it was crop or weed – they politely answered a different one. They told us what it tasted like and when they last ate it. These people had lived through hard times, famines, so to survive they had developed more open ideas. I realised then that I’d come with concepts that seemed universal but just weren’t relevant to the lives of people in contemporary northern China.”

The development of their farming practices, like those of the ancient farmers, was driven by the need for resilient plants that could ripen to harvest in challenging years, to ensure food security for the population. “What archaeologists can’t reconstruct is how much the early farmers understood the significance of what they were doing,” says Jones, “but this – and what we’ve heard from today’s Aohan peasant farmers – is something we can learn from in addressing our current food challenges.”

“With harvests and growing conditions intimately linked, the changes in climate now happening across the world pose a real threat to food security in certain regions,” adds Jones. “To get the unusually big grain size we see in wheat, rice and maize, a lot of the properties that give the plants inherent resilience have been sacrificed. Being geared towards producing heads of large grains is terrific if you can guarantee all the water, nutrients and sunlight they need. But the crops are much more prone to complete failure if something changes, like the amount of rainfall in a growing season. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket.”

For farming systems where there’s no financial infrastructure providing subsidies and grants to help farmers control the growing conditions through irrigation, pesticides and other methods, inherent crop resilience can be vital to a successful harvest.

“Millets have an unparalleled genetic diversity both because of their long history of cultivation, and because they’ve been grown in so many regions of the world, including very harsh ones,” says Jones. “This means they’ve retained the wild traits that give them resilience to changes in growing conditions. They don’t need much water, they grow quickly, and they have a great nutritional balance.”

After his work demonstrated the importance of the Asian millets and their origins in northern China, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognised the Aohan Dryland Farming System as a ‘Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems’ site. Aohan millet is now badged as a high-quality product and sold in large quantities to the domestic Chinese market, where it is a staple food. This year, Jones was among those awarded a medal from the Aohan government, not only for raising the profile of Aohan millet but also for helping the farmers to turn around the fate of this once overlooked crop, with support from their local government.

“I’m delighted that the Aohan government found such a useful and practical connection to academic research,” says Jones. “For me, talking to the farmers and local people in Inner Mongolia has taught me that their knowledge about plants is enormous.”

Given the increasing number of extreme weather events, and a growing population demanding a more varied diet, the world is facing a potential crisis in terms of food security. Aid agencies in Africa are becoming more aware of the practice of growing millet alongside the central maize crop as a safeguard against total harvest failure and are supporting farmers in Africa to continue to do this. And UK producers are showing interest in millet as a raw ingredient in branded consumer foods to help people improve their health and wellbeing.

“A huge amount of research linked to food security has focused on the really major crops,” says Jones. “Millets have taught me that it’s worth shifting the focus. We may have a lot still to learn from our Neolithic predecessors.”

Research funded by the European Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust.

Insert image: Millet, credit fluffymuppet on flickr.

Archaeological research shows that our prehistoric ancestors built resilience into their food supply. Now archaeologists say ‘forgotten’ millet – a cereal familiar today as birdseed – has a role to play in modern crop diversity and in helping to feed the world’s population.

A huge amount of research linked to food security has focused on the really major crops. Millets have taught me that it’s worth shifting the focus. We may have a lot still to learn from our Neolithic predecessors.
Martin Jones

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Major funding for new crop sciences research centre that will be ‘centrepiece’ of industrial collaboration

By cjb250 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Jul 10, 2017.

With the global population estimated to reach nine billion people by 2050, ensuring all people have access to sufficient food is one of this century’s greatest challenges.

Today, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is announcing funding for the creation of a new Cambridge Centre for Crop Science (3CS) in collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB). The new centre will provide a major boost to the University’s existing research initiatives around global food security. 

With £16.9m from the HEFCE-managed UK Research Partnership Investment Fund as well as some £14.5m from the NIAB Trust, the 3CS will focus on impact: working with industrial partners to translate the University’s strong fundamental plant research into outputs for the farmer, processor and consumer.

“3CS innovations will generate new crops and new ways of growing crops for food, fuels, industrial feedstocks and pharmaceuticals,” said Professor Sir David Baulcombe, head of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences and the project lead for the University.

“We envisage that new 3CS crop technologies will enable higher crop yields and lower environmental impact for crop-based food production – as well as contributing to improved dietary health.”

The project leads say the 3CS will be uniquely well positioned to contribute to growth and innovation due to the partnership at its core: connecting the multidisciplinary research of the University with NIAB’s pipeline to the end-users in farming and food industries.   

“The delivery of both public goods and economic growth is an essential agenda for today’s plant scientists, with the need to produce sufficient healthy nutritious food without harming the environment being at the top of the international agenda,” said NIAB’s CEO and Director Dr Tina Barsby.

“Creating the facilities to bring together NIAB and the University in 3CS presents an extraordinary opportunity for impacting this agenda through the development of world-class science and translation.”

The funding from HEFCE will allow the 3CS to be housed in a state-of-the-art research laboratory at NIAB’s Cambridge site, where it will be led by a newly-appointed Professor of Crop Science. The Centre will involve researchers from Plant Sciences and other University departments, NIAB, the Cambridge Sainsbury Laboratory, and other UK and international research institutes.

3CS is already establishing connections with major industry partners, as well as agricultural supply chain networks such as the Cambridge University Potato Growers Research Association.

In addition to the Cambridge Centre, the funding will also provide new field stations and offices at NIAB’s Histon site, as well as new glasshouses with full environmental controls.

The Eastern region is a rich area for plant science, and benefits from the Agri-Tech East research and business network. 3CS will allow for closer collaboration with other regional institutes, including the John Innes Centre in Norwich and Rothamsted Research – both of whom have welcomed the establishment of the new centre.

Young researchers will be central to the success of 3CS, says Baulcombe, and the best will be recruited from around the world to be trained in interdisciplinary science, including the latest in plant genetics, bioinformatics, computational modelling and statistics.

Strong links with the agricultural industry through NIAB will mean that 3CS researchers will learn to understand how societal value and industry requirements feed into research design and translation.

While 3CS will make significant contributions to the main globally-traded crops such as wheat and rice, there will be a focus on advances in the genetics and agronomy of other UK crops, such as potato and legumes, and so-called ‘orphan crops’: those that lag behind in technological advances but are vital for smallholder farmers across the developing world.

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said: “3CS will be unlike anywhere else in Europe because it connects a world-leading University directly to growers, breeders and other sectors of industry associated with crops. The opportunity could be compared to the potential for advances in healthcare when a research-active medical school co-locates with a hospital and pharmaceutical company.

“The 3CS will be the centrepiece of what will be significant new collaborations, and an exemplar of what can be achieved by bringing together interested parties to focus on sustainable crop production – essential for food security, resilience to climate change, and the growing bio-economy.”

Over £30m has been announced for a new Cambridge Centre for Crop Science that will focus on linking with farming and food industries to translate research into real world impact.

3CS will be unlike anywhere else in Europe because it connects a world-leading University directly to growers, breeders and other sectors of industry associated with crops
Leszek Borysiewicz
Canola crop with wheat crop in background at Wallandbeen, NSW.

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Of cabbages and cows: increasing agricultural yields in Africa

By lw355 from University of Cambridge - food security. Published on Feb 13, 2017.

The humble cabbage, universally despised by British schoolchildren, has found unexpected popularity on another continent. But just as the people of Ghana have developed an appetite – and a market – for this leafy green, so too has something else: a virus carried by aphids that causes the cabbages to wilt and die

By contrast, a parasite that emaciates cattle across sub-Saharan Africa has been around for thousands of years but continues to take its toll on certain species of the animals it infects. Prominent ribs are the frequent hallmarks of trypanosomiasis – caused by the presence of a cunning parasite that evades the animal’s immune system by periodically changing its protein ‘coat’.

Meanwhile, farmers in Ethiopia are turning away from the traditional zebu cattle towards breeds that produce greater quantities of milk. As a result they are exposing their herds – and themselves – to increasing levels of tuberculosis (TB) that are brought about by intensified animal husbandry practices.

What links cabbages and cows are three programmes that hope to connect fundamental research with improving farm yields, and in so doing contribute to solving a looming pan-African problem. More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. And more people means a requirement for more food.

Ethiopia, for example, has the largest livestock population in Africa but, with a growing population and increasing urbanisation, even its 53 million cattle are not enough. And now efforts to intensify farming in the country are bringing a significant health concern. “The new breeds are more vulnerable than zebu to bovine TB,” explains Professor James Wood from Cambridge’s Department of Veterinary Medicine. “This may have health implications for those who work with and live alongside infected cattle, and also raises concerns about transmission to areas with previously low TB.”

Wood leads a £2.9 million research programme, ETHICOBOTS, which is looking at the feasibility of control strategies, including cattle vaccination. The programme combines partners in eight Ethiopian and UK institutions, and brings together veterinary scientists, epidemiologists, geneticists, immunologists and social scientists. “We need this mix because we are not only asking how effective strategies will be, but also whether farmers will accept them, and what the consequences are for prosperity and wellbeing.” 

The difference that increasing productivity can have on farmers’ livelihoods is not lost on an insect expert at the University of Ghana, Dr Ken Fening, who is working on another food-related research project. Cabbages are not indigenous to the continent but have become a major cash crop for Ghanaian farmers and an important source of income for traders to markets and hotels.

“A good crop can bring in money to buy fertilisers and farm equipment, and also help to pay for healthcare and education for the family,” he says. Recently, however, fields of stunted, yellowing, wilting cabbages, their leaves curled and dotted with mould, have become an all too familiar and devastating sight for the farmers of Ghana.

From his field station base in Kpong, Ghana, Fening works closely with smallholder farmers on pest control strategies. Two years ago they started reporting that a new disease was attacking their crops. “It seemed to be associated with massive infestations of pink and green aphids,” says Fening, “and from my studies of the way insects interact with many different vegetables, I’m familiar with the types of damage they can cause.”

Farmers were typically seeing the total loss of their crops and he realised that the devastation couldn’t just be caused by sap-sucking insects. Despite no previous reports of viral diseases affecting cabbage crops in Ghana, the symptoms suggested a viral pathogen.

With funding through the CAPREx programme, Fening began work with Cambridge plant biologist Dr John Carr. The pair collected samples of cabbage plants in Ghana showing signs of disease, and also aphids on the diseased plants. Back in Cambridge, Fening used screening techniques including a type of DNA ‘fingerprinting’ to identify the aphid species, and sophisticated molecular biology methods to try to identify the offending virus.

“Aphids are a common carrier of plant-infecting viruses,” explains Carr, whose research is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council as part of the £16 million SCPRID (Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development) initiative. “The ‘usual suspects’ are turnip mosaic virus and cauliflower mosaic virus, which affect cabbages in Europe and the US.”

“We found that two different species of aphids, pink and green, were generally found on the diseased cabbages,” says Fening. “It turned out this was the first record of the green aphid species, Lipaphis erysimi (Kaltenbach), ever being seen in Ghana.” The pink aphid was identified as Myzus persicae (Sulzer).

What’s more, the virus was not what Carr expected, and work is now ongoing to identify the culprit. The sooner it can be characterised, the sooner sustainable crop protection strategies can be developed to prevent further spread of the disease not only in Ghana, but also in other countries in the region.

Another researcher who hopes that eradication strategies will be the outcome of her research project is Dr Theresa Manful. Like Fening, she is a researcher at the University of Ghana and a CAPREx fellow. She has been working with Cambridge biochemist Professor Mark Carrington on African animal trypanosomiasis.

The trypanosome that causes the disease is carried by the tsetse fly, which colonises vast swathes of sub-Saharan Africa. “This is a major constraint to cattle rearing in Africa,” she explains. “Although trypanosomiasis is also a disease of humans, the number of cases is low, and the more serious concerns about the disease relate to the economic impact on agricultural production.”

Carrington has worked for a quarter of a century on the parasite that causes the disease. He understands how the organism evades the immune system of the animal by changing its coat proteins so as to remain ‘invisible’.

“When you first start working on these parasites you are enamoured with the molecular mechanisms, which we now know a huge amount about,” he says. “But then when you look at the effect on large animals like cows you realise that there is almost nothing known about the dynamics of an infection, and even whether an infection acquired at an early age persists for its lifetime.”

Manful and Carrington set about testing herds in Ghana. They discovered that several trypanosome species can be found in the cattle at one time and that nearly all cattle were infected most of the time.

For Manful, one of the important gains has been the ability to expand the research in Ghana: “I now have a fully functional lab and can do DNA extraction and analysis in Ghana – I don’t have to bring samples to Cambridge. We are teaching students from five Ghanaian institutions the diagnostic methods.” She and Carrington have been recently funded through a Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Africa Award to continue their work.

“Agriculture faces increasing challenges,” adds Carr. “Bioscience is playing a crucial part in developing ways to mitigate pest impact and reduce the spread of parasites.

“We want to ensure not only that every harvest is successful, but also that it’s maximally successful.”

ETHICOBOTS is funded under the Zoonoses and Emerging Livestock Systems (ZELS) programme, a research initiative in the UK jointly funded by six research council and government bodies. Dr Ken Fening and Dr Theresa Manful were funded by the Cambridge-Africa Partnership for Research Excellence (CAPREx) and The ALBORADA Trust, through the Cambridge-Africa Programme.

Images: top: cabbage aphids (credit: Dr Ken Fening); bottom: cattle in Ghana (credit: Dr Theresa Manful and Professor Mark Carrington).

To keep up to date with the latest stories about Cambridge’s engagement with Africa, follow #CamAfrica on Twitter.

Africa’s food requirements, along with its population, are growing fast. Three research programmes ask how a better understanding of viruses, parasites and the spread of disease can pave the way to improving agricultural yields.

A good crop can bring in money to buy fertilisers and farm equipment, and also help to pay for healthcare and education for the family
Ken Fening
Greengrocer at Arusha Market

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Global collaboration takes off

By ag236 from University of Cambridge - cities. Published on Dec 12, 2016.

An alliance between the University of California Berkeley, the University of Cambridge and the National University of Singapore has moved into its next phase following the first joint call for research proposals and the approval of five inaugural projects.

The successful proposals, in the areas of “Cities”, “Precision medicine” and “Smart systems”, will be supported through a joint fund of £723,900 –including a contribution of £301,000 from the University of Cambridge.

These are the first projects set up under the auspices of the Global Alliance, a partnership between UC Berkeley, Cambridge and NUS formalised at the end of 2015.

The aim of the partnership is to promote collaborative and multidisciplinary research on a global scale.

Its focus is on finding solutions to global challenges that cannot be solved by a single institution, or even through bilateral collaboration.

Prof Chris Abell, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Cambridge, said:

“The projects supported under this first call show the many ways in which our joint resources will let us tackle global problems more effectively. They are the first in a series of research collaborations that will allow our three institutions to work together for the global good.”

The five successful projects were:

  • “Toward an open and secure internet-of-things reference platform” (Cambridge PI: Prof Simon Moore)
  • “Modelling interacting high-dimensional phenotypes – Kronecker Products for imaging, genetics and imaging genetics” (Cambridge PI: Prof John Aston)
  • “Mathematical and statistical theory of imaging” (Cambridge PI: Dr Carola-Bibiane Schönlieb)
  • “Smart design: human-centric planning of urban districts” (Cambridge PI: Prof Koen Steemers)
  • “Translucent city” (Cambridge PI: Dr. Ruchi Choudhary)

Funding for the five projects will be released between November 2016 and February 2017.

A further call for proposals will be published in May 2017 (deadline September 2017).

For more information, contact Dr Kata Fülöp, International Strategy Office, Kata.Fulop@admin.cam.ac.uk

Funding approved for research projects involving UC Berkeley, Cambridge and the National University of Singapore

The projects supported under this first call show the many ways in which our joint resources will let us tackle global problems more effectively.
Prof Chris Abell

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Solar cell material can recycle light to boost efficiency

By tdk25 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Mar 24, 2016.

Scientists have discovered that a highly promising group of materials known as hybrid lead halide perovskites can recycle light – a finding that they believe could lead to large gains in the efficiency of solar cells.

Hybrid lead halide perovskites are a particular group of synthetic materials which have been the subject of intensive scientific research, as they appear to promise a revolution in the field of solar energy. As well as being cheap and easy to produce, perovskite solar cells have, in the space of a few years, become almost as energy-efficient as silicon – the material currently used in most household solar panels.

By showing that they can also be optimised to recycle light, the new study suggests that this could just be the beginning. Solar cells work by absorbing photons from the sun to create electrical charges, but the process also works in reverse, because when the electrical charges recombine, they can create a photon. The research shows that perovskite cells have the extra ability to re-absorb these regenerated photons – a process known as “photon recycling”. This creates a concentration effect inside the cell, as if a lens has been used to focus lots of light in a single spot.

According to the researchers, this ability to recycle photons could be exploited with relative ease to create cells capable of pushing the limits of energy efficiency in solar panels.

The study builds on an established collaboration, focusing on the use of these materials not only in solar cells but also in light-emitting diodes, and was carried out in the group of Richard Friend, Cavendish Professor of Physics and Fellow of St John’s College at the University of Cambridge. The research was undertaken in partnership with the team of Henry Snaith at the University of Oxford and Bruno Ehrler at the FOM Institute, AMOLF, Amsterdam.

Felix Deschler, who is one of the corresponding authors of the study and works with a team studying perovskites at the Cavendish Laboratory, said: “It’s a massive demonstration of the quality of this material and opens the door to maximising the efficiency of solar cells. The fabrication methods that would be required to exploit this phenomenon are not complicated, and that should boost the efficiency of this technology significantly beyond what we have been able to achieve until now.”

Perovskite-based solar cells were first tested in 2012, and were so successful that in 2013, Science Magazine rated them one of the breakthroughs of the year.

Since then, researchers have made rapid progress in improving the efficiency with which these cells convert light into electrical energy. Recent experiments have produced power conversion efficiencies of around 20% - a figure already comparable with silicon cells.

By showing that perovskite-based cells can also recycle photons, the new research suggests that they could reach efficiencies well beyond this.

The study, which is reported in Science, involved shining a laser on to one part of a 500 nanometre-thick sample of lead-iodide perovskite. Perovskites emit light when they come into contact with it, so the team was able to measure photon activity inside the sample based on the light it emitted.

Close to where the laser light had shone on to the film, the researchers detected a near-infrared light emission. Crucially, however, this emission was also detected further away from the point where the laser hit the sample, together with a second emission composed of lower-energy photons.

“The low-energy component enables charges to be transported over a long distance, but the high-energy component could not exist unless photons were being recycled,” Luis Miguel Pazos Outón, lead author on the study, said. “Recycling is a quality that materials like silicon simply don’t have. This effect concentrates a lot of charges within a very small volume. These are produced by a combination of incoming photons and those being made within the material itself, and that’s what enhances its energy efficiency.”

As part of the study, Pazos Outón also manufactured the first demonstration of a perovskite-based back-contact solar cell. This single cell proved capable of transporting an electrical current more than 50 micrometres away from the contact point with the laser; a distance far greater than the researchers had predicted, and a direct result of multiple photon recycling events taking place within the sample.

The researchers now believe that perovskite solar cells, may be able to reach considerably higher efficiencies than they have to date. “The fact that we were able to show photon recycling happening in our own cell, which had not been optimised to produce energy, is extremely promising,” Richard Friend, a corresponding author, said. “If we can harness this it would lead to huge gains in terms of energy efficiency.”

Reference:
Luis M. Pazos-Outón et al. 'Photon recycling in lead iodide perovskite solar cells.' Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1168

 

Perovskite materials can recycle light particles – a finding which could lead to a new generation of affordable, high-performance solar cells.

It’s a massive demonstration of the quality of this material and opens the door to maximising the efficiency of solar cells
Felix Deschler
Depiction of photon recycling inside the crystalline structure of perovskite.

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New design points a path to the ‘ultimate’ battery

By sc604 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Oct 29, 2015.

Scientists have developed a working laboratory demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has very high energy density, is more than 90% efficient, and, to date, can be recharged more than 2000 times, showing how several of the problems holding back the development of these devices could be solved.

Lithium-oxygen, or lithium-air, batteries have been touted as the ‘ultimate’ battery due to their theoretical energy density, which is ten times that of a lithium-ion battery. Such a high energy density would be comparable to that of gasoline – and would enable an electric car with a battery that is a fifth the cost and a fifth the weight of those currently on the market to drive from London to Edinburgh on a single charge.

However, as is the case with other next-generation batteries, there are several practical challenges that need to be addressed before lithium-air batteries become a viable alternative to gasoline.

Now, researchers from the University of Cambridge have demonstrated how some of these obstacles may be overcome, and developed a lab-based demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has higher capacity, increased energy efficiency and improved stability over previous attempts.

Their demonstrator relies on a highly porous, ‘fluffy’ carbon electrode made from graphene (comprising one-atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms), and additives that alter the chemical reactions at work in the battery, making it more stable and more efficient. While the results, reported in the journal Science, are promising, the researchers caution that a practical lithium-air battery still remains at least a decade away.

“What we’ve achieved is a significant advance for this technology and suggests whole new areas for research – we haven’t solved all the problems inherent to this chemistry, but our results do show routes forward towards a practical device,” said Professor Clare Grey of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, the paper’s senior author.

Many of the technologies we use every day have been getting smaller, faster and cheaper each year – with the notable exception of batteries. Apart from the possibility of a smartphone which lasts for days without needing to be charged, the challenges associated with making a better battery are holding back the widespread adoption of two major clean technologies: electric cars and grid-scale storage for solar power.

“In their simplest form, batteries are made of three components: a positive electrode, a negative electrode and an electrolyte,’’ said Dr Tao Liu, also from the Department of Chemistry, and the paper’s first author.

In the lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries we use in our laptops and smartphones, the negative electrode is made of graphite (a form of carbon), the positive electrode is made of a metal oxide, such as lithium cobalt oxide, and the electrolyte is a lithium salt dissolved in an organic solvent. The action of the battery depends on the movement of lithium ions between the electrodes. Li-ion batteries are light, but their capacity deteriorates with age, and their relatively low energy densities mean that they need to be recharged frequently.

Over the past decade, researchers have been developing various alternatives to Li-ion batteries, and lithium-air batteries are considered the ultimate in next-generation energy storage, because of their extremely high energy density. However, previous attempts at working demonstrators have had low efficiency, poor rate performance, unwanted chemical reactions, and can only be cycled in pure oxygen.

What Liu, Grey and their colleagues have developed uses a very different chemistry than earlier attempts at a non-aqueous lithium-air battery, relying on lithium hydroxide (LiOH) instead of lithium peroxide (Li2O2). With the addition of water and the use of lithium iodide as a ‘mediator’, their battery showed far less of the chemical reactions which can cause cells to die, making it far more stable after multiple charge and discharge cycles.

By precisely engineering the structure of the electrode, changing it to a highly porous form of graphene, adding lithium iodide, and changing the chemical makeup of the electrolyte, the researchers were able to reduce the ‘voltage gap’ between charge and discharge to 0.2 volts. A small voltage gap equals a more efficient battery – previous versions of a lithium-air battery have only managed to get the gap down to 0.5 – 1.0 volts, whereas 0.2 volts is closer to that of a Li-ion battery, and equates to an energy efficiency of 93%.

The highly porous graphene electrode also greatly increases the capacity of the demonstrator, although only at certain rates of charge and discharge. Other issues that still have to be addressed include finding a way to protect the metal electrode so that it doesn’t form spindly lithium metal fibres known as dendrites, which can cause batteries to explode if they grow too much and short-circuit the battery.

Additionally, the demonstrator can only be cycled in pure oxygen, while the air around us also contains carbon dioxide, nitrogen and moisture, all of which are generally harmful to the metal electrode.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” said Liu. “But what we’ve seen here suggests that there are ways to solve these problems – maybe we’ve just got to look at things a little differently.”

“While there are still plenty of fundamental studies that remain to be done, to iron out some of the mechanistic details, the current results are extremely exciting – we are still very much at the development stage, but we’ve shown that there are solutions to some of the tough problems associated with this technology,” said Grey.

The authors acknowledge support from the US Department of Energy, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Johnson Matthey and the European Union via Marie Curie Actions and the Graphene Flagship. The technology has been patented and is being commercialised through Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm. 

Reference:
Liu, T et. al. ‘Cycling Li-O2 Batteries via LiOH Formation and Decomposition.’ Science (2015). DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7730

Researchers have successfully demonstrated how several of the problems impeding the practical development of the so-called ‘ultimate’ battery could be overcome.

What we’ve achieved is a significant advance for this technology and suggests whole new areas for research
Clare Grey
False-colour microscopic view of a reduced graphene oxide electrode (black, centre), which hosts the large (on the order of 20 micrometers) lithium hydroxide particles (pink) that form when a lithium-oxygen battery discharges.

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Solar-powered car to take on Australian Outback challenge

By th288 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Jul 07, 2015.

The first full-time Programme Director for CUER is Aurelia Hibbert, second year engineering student at Newnham College. She says the team is working around the clock to get their ultra-lightweight racing car ready for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2015, a gruelling 3,000 km endurance event across the Australian outback.

“The race is biennial; as a student society we lose knowledge and skills at the end of each year when many of our core team graduate and leave the university. We have managed to secure funding for the role of a full-time team leader and this will make a huge difference. I feel excited and a bit daunted by the role; it is a fantastic opportunity.”

The team has recently gained the backing of BNY Mellon, who join an impressive collection of industry champions supporting the team.

Scott Stevens, BNY Mellon says: “By designing a car to run on solar power alone, CUER is driving the step changes in vehicle efficiency and new technologies for a low-carbon future. Their passion for innovation in clean technology is truly awe-inspiring.

“We’ve seen the early designs and believe the CUER team has an incredible opportunity to do extremely well in this year’s race.”

More engineers are needed by industry and CUER sparks the interest of students from a range of disciplines.

Alan Jamieson is taking a PhD in fluid mechanics, a highly theoretical course, but through CUER he is gaining practical engineering skills. He remembers: “I saw one of the older models at the societies fair; it was just a massive car with solar panels. One of the team explained how they were starting from scratch to design and build a car and race it across the Australia outback. That sold it to me – I was committed.”

A benefit of being involved is the interaction with professionals in all fields of engineering and business.

Alan says: “We went to Jaguar Land Rover one weekend and staff came in just to be there and help us. They let us use the environmental chamber to replicate conditions in Australia. I sat in the car to see how hot it would get and see how much the driver could handle. I was blown away that they were this massive company but they gave us their time and facilities to help.”

Andrew Foster, Chief Engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, says he has been impressed with the team’s creativity, ambition and determination. “Our research team has provided assistance on calculations, making models for the wind tunnel and rapid prototyping for some of the components. Working alongside experts and being hands-on with problem solving is invaluable to creating a well-rounded engineer.” The students have also had the opportunity to pitch their ideas and bid for funding, important skills for business.

The involvement of Jaguar Land Rover has encouraged niche specialists to support the team.

Michael Collins, Sales and Marketing Director of Penso, comments that his business is heavily involved in next generation material development. He says: “There is a requirement to make cars lighter by 2020 and this is increasing interest in the use of composites. We have shown the team how to machine the moulds and lay up the composite material to get a good finish and a better material. There is a shortage of people with this knowledge and the technology is applicable to different industries.

“A significant investment of our time has been required but there are some innovative lightweight structures in the car which are of real interest to us and we are planning to take the vehicle to JEC World, the largest composite show in Europe, when we attend next year.”

Allan Carmichael of the Technology Partnership plc (TTP), which has provided training, says: “This is engineering in practice, similar to the demands of a commercial environment : a team facing demanding challenges to a tough deadline – a perfect opportunity for a novice engineer to develop technically and professionally.”

Christopher Walkinshaw, Group Corporate Communications Director at Marshall, agrees. The Cambridge-based engineering company employs 4,500 people in the UK and overseas and provides CUER with workshop space.

“Our hope is that the team have a successful campaign, completing the testing, solving the many challenges and getting both the car and the team to the start line in Australia.  Of course we want them to do really well in the Challenge but the project is also about much more than turning up on the line and driving 3,000 km. It has been very hard work. They have some great people, doing amazing things in many different ways, all of which plays a vital part in the success of the team. We hope they come out of it feeling really proud of all their achievements.”

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is a 3,000 km endurance event across the heart of Australia from Darwin to Adelaide which takes place 18-25 October 2015.

Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) secures support vital to maintain momentum

By designing a car to run on solar power alone, CUER is driving the step changes in vehicle efficiency and new technologies for a low-carbon future.
Scott Stevens, BNY Mellon

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Low-impact hub generates electrical current from pure plant power

By lw355 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Mar 06, 2015.

A prototype “green bus shelter” that could eventually generate enough electricity to light itself, has been built by a collaboration of University of Cambridge researchers and eco-companies.

The ongoing living experiment, hosted by the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and open to the visiting public, is incorporated in a distinct wooden hub, designed by architects MCMM to resemble a structure like a bus shelter. Eight vertical green wall units – created by green wall specialists, Scotscape – are housed along with four semi-transparent solar panels and two flexible solar panels provided by Polysolar.

The hub has specially adapted vertical green walls that harvest electrons naturally produced as a by-product of photosynthesis and metabolic activity, and convert them into electrical current. It is the brainchild of Professor Christopher Howe and Dr Paolo Bombelli of the Department of Biochemistry. Their previous experiments resulted in a device able to power a radio using the current generated by moss.

The thin-film solar panels turn light into electricity by using mainly the blue and green radiation of the solar spectrum. Plants grow behind the solar glass, ‘sharing the light’ by utilising the red spectrum radiation needed for photosynthesis, while avoiding the scorching effect of UV light. The plants generate electrical currents as a consequence of photosynthesis and metabolic activity during the day and night.

“Ideally you can have the solar panels generating during the day, and the biological system at night. To address the world’s energy needs, we need a portfolio of many different technologies, and it’s even better if these technologies can operate in synergy,” said Bombelli.

The structure of the hub allows different combinations of the photovoltaic and biological systems to be tested. On the north east aspect of the hub, plants receive light directly, without being exposed to too much direct sun. On the south west orientation, a green wall panel is housed behind a semi-transparent solar panel so that the effect on the plants and their ability to generate current can be monitored. Next to that, in the same orientation, a single solar panel stands alone, and two further panels are also mounted on the roof.

“The combination of horticulture with renewable energy production constitutes a powerful solution to food and resource shortages on an increasingly populated planet,” explained Joanna Slota-Newson from Polysolar. “We build our semi-transparent solar panels into greenhouses, producing electrical energy from the sun which can in turn be used to power irrigation pumps or artificial lighting, while offering a controlled environment to improve agricultural yields. In this collaboration with Cambridge University, the public can experience the plants’ healthy growth behind Polysolar panels.”

The green wall panels in the hub are made from a synthetic material containing pockets, each holding a litre of soil and several plants. The pockets are fitted with a lining of carbon fibre on the back, which acts as an anode to receive electrons from the metabolism of plants and bacteria in the soil, and a carbon/catalyst plate on the front which acts as a cathode. 

When a plant photosynthesises, energy from the sun is used to convert carbon dioxide into organic compounds that the plant needs to grow. Some of the compounds – such as carbohydrates, proteins and lipids – are leached into the soil where they are broken down by bacteria, which in turn release by-products, including electrons, as part of the process.

Electrons have a negative charge so, when they are generated, protons (with a positive charge) are also created. When the anode and cathode are connected to each other by a wire acting as an external circuit, the negative charges migrate between those two electrodes. Simultaneously, the positive charges migrate from the anodic region to the cathode through a wet system, in this case the soil. The cathode contains a catalyst that enables the electrons, protons and atmospheric oxygen to recombine to form water, thus completing the circuit and permitting an electrical current to be generated in the external circuit.

The P2P hub therefore generates electrical current from the combination of biological and physical elements. Each element of the hub is monitored separately, and members of the public can track the findings in real time, at a dedicated website and on a computer embedded in the hub itself.

Margherita Cesca, Senior Architect and Director of MCMM Architettura, the hub’s designer, is pleased that it has garnered so much interest. “This prototype is intended to inspire the imagination, and encourage people to consider what could be achieved with these pioneering technologies. The challenging design incorporates and showcases green wall and solar panels as well as glass, creating an interesting element which sits beautifully within Cambridge University Botanic Garden,” she said.

Bombelli added: “The long-term aim of the P2P solar hub research is to develop a range of self-powered sustainable buildings for multi-purpose use all over the world, from bus stops to refugee shelters.”

The P2P project was supported by a Partnership Development Award grant from the University’s EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account.

P2P is an outreach activity developed under the umbrella of the BPV (BioPhotoVoltaic) project working in collaboration with green technology companies including MCMM, Polysolar and Scotscape. The BPV project includes scientists from the Departments of Biochemistry, Plant Sciences, Physics and Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, together with the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the University of Cape Town.

Green wall technology and semi-transparent solar panels have been combined to generate electrical current from a renewable source of energy both day and night.

This prototype is intended to inspire the imagination, and encourage people to consider what could be achieved with these pioneering technologies
Margherita Cesca, MCMM Architettura

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Revolutionary solar cells double as lasers

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Mar 28, 2014.

Commercial silicon-based solar cells - such as those seen on the roofs of houses across the country - operate at about 20% efficiency for converting the Sun’s rays into electrical energy. It’s taken over 20 years to achieve that rate of efficiency.

A relatively new type of solar cell based on a perovskite material - named for scientist Lev Perovski, who first discovered materials with this structure in the Ural Mountains in the 19th century - was recently pioneered by an Oxford research team led by Professor Henry Snaith.

Perovskite solar cells, the source of huge excitement in the research community, already lie just a fraction behind commercial silicon, having reached a remarkable 17% efficiency after a mere two years of research - transforming prospects for cheap large-area solar energy generation.

Now, researchers from Professor Sir Richard Friend’s group at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory - working with Snaith’s Oxford group - have demonstrated that perovskite cells excel not just at absorbing light but also at emitting it. The new findings, recently published online in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, show that these ‘wonder cells’ can also produce cheap lasers.

By sandwiching a thin layer of the lead halide perovskite between two mirrors, the team produced an optically driven laser which proves these cells “show very efficient luminescence” - with up to 70% of absorbed light re-emitted.

The researchers point to the fundamental relationship, first established by Shockley and Queisser in 1961, between the generation of electrical charges following light absorption and the process of ‘recombination’ of these charges to emit light. 

Essentially, if a material is good at converting light to electricity, then it will be good at converting electricity to light. The lasing properties in these materials raise expectations for even higher solar cell efficiencies, say the Oxbridge team, which - given that perovskite cells are about to overtake commercial cells in terms of efficiency after just two years of development - is a thrilling prospect.              

“This first demonstration of lasing in these cheap solution-processed semiconductors opens up a range of new applications,” said lead author Dr Felix Deschler of the Cavendish Laboratory. “Our findings demonstrate potential uses for this material in telecommunications and for light emitting devices.”

Most commercial solar cell materials need expensive processing to achieve a very low level of impurities before they show good luminescence and performance.  Surprisingly these new materials work well even when very simply prepared as thin films using cheap scalable solution processing. 

The researchers found that upon light absorption in the perovskite two charges (electron and hole) are formed very quickly - within 1 picosecond - but then take anywhere up to a few microseconds to recombine. This is long enough for chemical defects to have ceased the light emission in most other semiconductors, such as silicon or gallium arsenide. “These long carrier lifetimes together with exceptionally high luminescence are unprecedented in such simply prepared inorganic semiconductors,” said Dr Sam Stranks, co-author from the Oxford University team.

“We were surprised to find such high luminescence efficiency in such easily prepared materials. This has great implications for improvements in solar cell efficiency,” said Michael Price, co-author from the group in Cambridge.

Added Snaith: “This luminescent behaviour is an excellent test for solar cell performance – poorer luminescence (as in amorphous silicon solar cells) reduces both the quantum efficiency (current collected) and also the cell voltage.” 

Scientists say that this new paper sets expectations for yet higher solar cell performance from this class of perovskite semiconductors. Solar cells are being scaled up for commercial deployment by the Oxford spin-out, Oxford PV Ltd. The efficient luminescence itself may lead to other exciting applications with much broader commercial prospects – a big challenge that the Oxford and Cambridge teams have identified is to construct an electrically driven laser.

Latest research finds that the trailblazing ‘perovskite’ material used in solar cells can double up as a laser, strongly suggesting the astonishing efficiency levels already achieved in these cells is only part of the journey.

Our findings demonstrate potential uses for this material in telecommunications and for light emitting devices
Felix Deschler

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Yes

Two for one in solar power

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Nov 18, 2013.

Solar cells offer the opportunity to harvest abundant, renewable energy. Although the highest energy light occurs in the ultraviolet and visible spectrum, most solar energy is in the infrared.

There is a trade-off in harvesting this light, so that solar cells are efficient in the infrared but waste much of the energy available from the more energetic photons in the visible part of the spectrum.

When a photon is absorbed it creates a single electronic excitation that is then separated into an electron and a positively charged hole, irrespective of the light energy. One way to improve efficiency is to split energy available from visible photons into two, which leads to a doubling of the current in the solar cell. 

Researchers in Cambridge and Mons have investigated the process in which the initial electronic excitation can split into a pair of half-energy excitations. This can happen in certain organic molecules when the quantum mechanical effect of electron spin sets the initial spin ‘singlet’ state to be double the energy of the alternative spin ‘triplet’ arrangement.

The study, published in the journal Nature Chemistry, shows that this process of singlet fission to pairs of triplets depends very sensitively on the interactions between molecules.  By studying this process when the molecules are in solution it is possible to control when this process is switched on. When the material is very dilute, the distance between molecules is large and singlet fission does not occur. When the solution is concentrated, collisions between molecules become more frequent.

The researchers find that the fission process happens as soon as just two of these molecules are in contact, and remarkably, that singlet fission is then completely efficient—so that every photon produces two triplets.

This fundamental study provides new insights into the process of singlet fission and demonstrates that the use of singlet fission is a very promising route to improved solar cells. Chemists will be able to use the results to make new materials, say the team from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who are currently working on ways to use these solutions in devices.        

“We began by going back to fundamentals; looking at the solar energy challenge from a blue skies perspective,” said Dr Brian Walker, a research fellow in the Cavendish Lab’s Optoelectronics group, who led the study.

“Singlet fission offers a route to boosting solar cell efficiency using low-cost materials. We are only beginning to understand how this process works, and as we learn more we expect improvements in the technology to follow.”

The team used a combination of laser experiments - which measure timings with extreme accuracy - with chemical methods used to study reaction mechanisms. This dual approach allowed the researchers to slow down fission and observe a key intermediate step never before seen.

“Very few other groups in the world have laser apparatus as versatile as ours in Cambridge,” added Andrew Musser, a researcher who collaborated in the study. “This enabled us to get a step closer to working out exactly how singlet fission occurs.”

The research was supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the European Community’s Initial Training Network SUPERIOR, the FNRS in Belgium, the Herchel Smith Fund, and the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability.

A process that could revolutionise solar energy harvesting has been efficiently demonstrated in solution for the first time.

We are only beginning to understand how this process works, and as we learn more we expect improvements in the technology to follow
Brian Walker
Left: Laser apparatus used to study singlet fission in Cambridge. Right: Celestia sun

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Yes

Resolution ready to shine down under

By tdk25 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Aug 24, 2013.

After months of planning, design, building and testing, Britain’s only entry into the World Solar Challenge – a 3,000km solar-powered race across Australia – is heading out to the other side of the world.

Created by students at the University of Cambridge, the car, which has been named “Resolution” by its creators, will be transported to Australia on Tuesday. Once there, it will undergo intense examination and further testing before the Darwin to Adelaide race begins on 6 October.

No British team has ever won the competition in its 26-year history. A victory this time would be a triumph of enterprise and ingenuity against the odds. Unlike the most successful of their competitors, who receive funding to build their cars up front, the Cambridge team have to raise the money themselves from scratch. They also have to fit the construction around exams and holiday jobs which, in some cases, are funding their own trips to Australia to compete.

Despite the challenge, however, the team are confident that Resolution’s radically different design has given them a chance. The car, which runs on roughly the same power as a hairdryer, overcomes the traditional trade-off between maximising its power and still having an aerodynamic design by separating the two.

Solar panels are attached to aft-tracking plates across its body, and programmed to follow the movement of the sun across the sky. In most solar cars, the panels are fixed to the vehicle’s surface, which compromises its shape. The use of mobile panels has enabled the team to make Resolution far more aerodynamic than the traditional “table-top” design of most of their competitors.

The result is a vehicle that can move at an astonishing rate. In tests, the car has  exceeded 70 miles per hour with a predicted top speed of 87 miles per hour. That bodes well for a competition where the fastest average speed ever recorded by a winner was just under 63mph.

“Put simply, our car looks like nothing else in the competition, and that might just give us the edge we need,” Keno Mario-Ghae, team manager for Cambridge University Eco-Racing, based at the University’s Department of Engineering, said.

“There is still work to do, but we’re at the stage where the devil is in the detail. We’re looking at getting little things to run a bit more smoothly, or with a bit less power. We reckon that we can still squeeze out about 200 watts more in power consumption with a bit of effort.”

The main reason for sending the car to Australia now – weeks before the race itself begins – is the intense preparation period that it will have to pass through on arrival. The car first goes into quarantine, possibly for just five days, but potentially for much longer.

Once released, the vehicle enters a new period of testing. Safety plans have to be submitted, driver turnaround times perfected, and the car undergoes test drives at different speeds. In particular, the team will need to assess how its systems are coping with the heat. Temperatures on the route could reach into the high 30s, which will be gruelling not just for the car, but the student drivers, who will be undertaking four hour stints inside the cramped cockpit.

“It’s basically like Formula One,” Mario-Ghae observed. “Everything we submit gets reviewed and checked to make sure that it complies with the rules. The systems are assessed one by one. Even the drivers have to be weighed in.”

The cost of building the car comes to almost £500,000, but at no stage during it construction period has the team possessed anything resembling that amount of money. Instead, they have had to put it together using corporate sponsorship, donations, a  “Name-On-Car” scheme, and crowdfunding through the website Kickstarter.

The net result is that, unlike many of their competitors, there are few spare components. That will make for a tense race because, although the car can potentially reach speeds that will challenge for a place on the winners’ podium, it could also fail if its key parts stop working.

“The margins are tight and and for us something failing could take us from challenging for a winning position to being absolutely nowhere,” Mario-Ghae said. “You just have to pray that everything will work. The race is going to be a massive effort, but if we can get everything right, we genuinely believe that we can win. We’re doing everything that we can to make this happen.”

Further information about Cambridge University Eco-Racing, and how you can support the British team, can be found at http://www.cuer.co.uk/

For more information about this story, please contact Tom Kirk, Tel: 01223 332300, thomas.kirk@admin.cam.ac.uk 

Built by undergraduates working for their exams, with funds raised by the students themselves, Cambridge’s solar car is the only British entry into the World Solar Challenge. Despite the odds, however, its radical design could still secure victory.

Put simply, our car looks like nothing else in the competition, and that might just give us the edge we need.
Keno Mario-Ghae
Resolution during a test drive in Cambridge.

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Yes

New and under the sun

By tdk25 from University of Cambridge - solar power. Published on Jul 05, 2013.

A new solar car which, according to its creators, “rewrites the rulebook” for green vehicles, has been designed by students aiming to become the first British team to win the World Solar Challenge.

The prototype, which has been named “Resolution”, was built by engineers at the University of Cambridge. It is being unveiled in a road-test today (July 5th) at the Millbrook Race Track, near Bedford.

The team will be taking the car to Australia in October, where they will compete against rivals from all over the world in a 3,000km race from Darwin to Adelaide, in which the vehicles must be powered by the sun alone.

Their hope is that Resolution’s radically different design, in particular a set of moving solar panels which maximise power by tracking the path of the sun across the sky, will enable them to take first place where others have failed. No British team has ever won the competition in its 26-year history.

Keno Mario-Ghae, team manager for Cambridge University Eco-Racing, based at the University’s Department of Engineering, said: “Resolution is different because she overcomes one of the main limitations that affect most solar cars.”

“Traditionally, the entire structure of a solar car has been based on a trade-off between aerodynamic performance and solar performance. That’s how they’ve been designed for the past 10 years, and that’s why they all tend to look the same.”

“We turned the concept on its head. Our reasoning is that solar performance needs to adapt to the movement of the sun, but the car needs a fixed shape to be at its most aerodynamic. To make the car as fast and powerful as possible, we needed to find a way to separate the two ideas out, rather than find a compromise between them.”

The solution the team eventually hit upon involved embedding the solar panels within an aft-facing tracking plate. This plate follows the sun’s trajectory, and moves the panels themselves, so that they are optimally positioned at all times. The team estimate that this will give the car 20 per cent more power than it would have otherwise had.

This structure is placed under a canopy which forms part of the teardrop shape of the vehicle as a whole. The design is a departure from the “tabletop” look of most other solar cars, but is more aerodynamic. Because it encases the solar panels, rather than making them part of the shape, the question of power generation does not compromise the car’s aerodynamics.

Resolution measures less than 5m in length, is 0.8m wide and about 1.1m in height. Driving her across the Australian desert is likely to be a claustrophobic experience - in fact, the driver must be a maximum of 5’ 3’’ tall! These, however, are deliberate concessions made by the team for the sake of making the vehicle as fast and efficient as possible in the hope of winning the race. In the future, more conventional solar vehicles may well adopt similar ideas, but opt for comfort, rather than speed.

The car weights 120kg, and can reach a top speed of almost 140 kilometres per hour (almost 87 miles per hour), but needs about the same amount of power as a hairdryer. It achieves this by maximising efficiency at every level - for example, the motor is located in the hub of the wheel, eliminating the need for gears, chains or differentials which would lower its efficiency overall.

For those small enough to squeeze inside the cockpit, the vehicle has also been fitted with on-board telemetry, an “intelligent cruise control” which takes into account traffic, weather and driving style, and will advise the team on how to optimise the vehicle’s efficiency during the race itself.

2013 will be the third time that student engineers at Cambridge have taken part in the race. The first attempt, in 2009, was beset by battery issues and saw the team finish 14th out of 26 entrants. After a substantial redesign, the University’s Eco-Racing team entered again in 2011. That race was hampered by bush fires and poor weather conditions, and only seven of the participating cars were able to finish using solar power alone.

The team raises its own funds to develop and build the car, using a combination of corporate sponsorship and individual donations through a “Friends of CUER” scheme. The students involved also have to manage the manufacturing schedule carefully, as part way through the course of building the vehicle everything is necessarily put on hold while they do their exams! The final product is the result of a huge, collaborative effort involving 60 students.

“Efficiency is where our real strength lies and this is how we will be hoping to compete with the bigger teams entering the Challenge this time around,” Mario-Ghae added. “A huge amount of careful planning has gone into this project. It has involved research not just in terms of engineering and aerodynamics, but into the materials we use, the modelling behind the design, and the optimisation of the solar cells that power the car.”

“The cumulative effect is, we think, a radical, race-winning design that also incorporates elements that could be used more widely in a low-carbon future. No British team has won this race before, but there is no reason why we can’t be the first to do it.”

For more information about this story, please contact Tom Kirk, Tel: 01223 332300, thomas.kirk@admin.cam.ac.uk 

A group of Cambridge students are hoping that their game-changing design of solar car will make them the first British winners of the World Solar Challenge.

The cumulative effect is a radical, race-winning design that also incorporates elements that could be used more widely in a low-carbon future
Keno Mario-Ghae
The 2013 solar car developed by Cambridge students has a more aerodynamic design, thanks to tracking solar panels at the back, which prevent any compromise on its shape.

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Yes