Hydrogen and hydrogen-based, low-carbon liquid fuels (alternative liquid fuels) are essential for the UK to reach net zero greenhouse gases by 2050. There is growing consensus of its role in the deep decarbonisation of the UK economy, and this is exemplified by the publication of the UK hydrogen strategy.
This opportunity aligns with EPSRC’s Engineering Net Zero priority, UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) strategic theme of Building a Greener Future and the UK’s Net Zero Research and Innovation Framework. Our investment in hydrogen will deliver whole systems approaches and solutions, which are resilient and adaptable to climate change, to decarbonise our economy and society, and create and deliver a sustainable net zero future.
EPSRC is looking to support two hydrogen hubs to drive forward the national effort in hydrogen research that is needed to facilitate this critical area of technology to meet industry and government needs, one in each of the following areas:
- hub for research challenges in hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels, led by the coordinator for research challenges in hydrogen and alternative vectors
- hub for systems integration of hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels, led by the coordinator for systems integration of hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels.
EPSRC’s investment in the two hydrogen hubs supports the UK’s ambitions to transition to a zero carbon economy. We will work in partnership across UKRI, the hubs, and the public and private sector to unlock further growth in the area.
The hydrogen hubs opportunity is the second phase of a two-phase process designed to fund two multidisciplinary research programmes, which currently do not exist at the scale required to accelerate the development of hydrogen and alternative fuels and their whole systems integration in the UK.
Hubs will only be funded through this two-phase process if the identified programme requirements and funding opportunity criteria are successfully met.
First phase: appointment of the hydrogen coordinators
The coordinators must use the funding awarded to network within the research and innovation community to act as thought leaders, ambassadors and consensus builders.
Read more about the hydrogen research coordinator opportunity.
Second phase: hydrogen hubs (this funding opportunity)
Only the successful hydrogen coordinators have been invited to submit to the second phase of this opportunity to deliver the hubs for research challenges and systems integration of hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels. In doing so, they will work with the wider research and innovation community through a multidisciplinary consortium that builds upon and enhances the outputs from the first phase.
It is fundamental to the success of both hubs that the coordinators have a key role in leading and driving the transfer of knowledge between academia, industry and policymakers through developing meaningful partnerships with users who are engaged in the research programme from the outset.
These hydrogen hubs are not a continuation or a next phase of the hydrogen and fuels cells supergen hub.
Proposals must demonstrably lie primarily within the remit of EPSRC, while recognising cross-disciplinary opportunities that arise within this context and must be within the scope of this funding opportunity.
Hub for research challenges in hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels
This hub will provide a focus for the UK research community, working in close partnership with businesses, governments, and administrations throughout the UK to tackle research challenges that underpin the hydrogen production, storage and distribution parts of the hydrogen value chain.
This hub will discover and develop cross-cutting solutions to the cross-sector challenges relating to hydrogen and hydrogen-based low carbon liquid fuels. Examples include, but are not limited to, research challenges such as:
- green hydrogen production
- production of low carbon liquid forms of hydrogen
- hydrogen storage
- environmental impact
- public perception and engagement.
They may also seek to address issues that will impact upon the hydrogen end-use sectors. These may include, but are not limited to, challenges associated with:
- lowering costs of hydrogen technologies
- increasing efficiencies of technological systems
- materials science and engineering
- hydrogen safety.
Fuel cells and blue hydrogen are out of scope for this funding opportunity.
It will operate as a flagship hub for UK hydrogen research, collaborating with and being informed by sector-focused research delivered through other UKRI programmes including industry, transport, heating, agriculture and the built environment.
Specific research challenges that the hub is expected to prioritise and align their research programme against include:
- how do we significantly lower the cost of producing low carbon hydrogen at a range of scales
- how do we best use hydrogen to decarbonise both the domestic and industrial sectors
- where does hydrogen have the most impact in the UK economy both spatially and sectorally, and how do we realise that benefit
- how do we best use hydrogen to decarbonise the transport sector
- what is the potential for green ammonia to help decarbonise agriculture
- how do we best use hydrogen to support decarbonisation of the power sector
- how do we best support the implementation of hydrogen in the energy system?
Hub for systems integration of hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels
In the context of this activity, integration means within whole energy systems and can include:
- incorporation across different geographic scales from local, regional, national and international
- integration across technologies
- technology coupling requirements
- trade-off analysis across technology options
- whole systems approach.
This hub will take a view across all aspects of hydrogen across technologies, sectors, places and the whole energy system to understand how best to integrate hydrogen. These may include, but are not limited to, challenges associated with:
- trade-offs associated with hydrogen integration
- integration across sectors and across the whole energy system
- technological requirements
- emissions throughout the hydrogen value chain.
The hub will also explore necessary trade-offs and technology coupling requirements to allow the full potential of hydrogen, as part of a decarbonised energy system, to be realised. A whole systems approach is crucial to enable full exploitation of hydrogen into the energy systems.
It will allow assessment of hydrogen as a technology option from fuels for hydrogen production and the impacts of hydrogen on our world.
The hub must also deliver effective public engagement plans to co-create the research programme and outcomes, ensuring integration of hydrogen into UK society.
Specific research challenges that the hub is expected to prioritise and align their research programme against, working in partnership with end users, include:
- what are the trade-offs for end-use of hydrogen
- what are the trade-offs between energy vectors
- how can we integrate hydrogen use across sectors and across the whole energy system
- what are the technology coupling requirements for hydrogen in a decarbonised future and how do we achieve them
- what are the emissions associated with all parts of the hydrogen value chain?
The hubs must align their activities and work together to act as a national hydrogen research programme. The hubs should work across the breath of the research and innovation community, across all areas of the UKRI portfolio including but not limited to engineering, environmental, physical and social sciences, to identify key challenges, barriers and opportunities for coordinated activity.
The two coordinators are expected to work together, in partnership, to enable alignment and complementarity of the respective hub activities, ensuring facilitation of knowledge exchange to secure maximum impact from both hubs. They will establish co-leadership of the research agenda within this area, interfacing with and working in partnership with industry, policymakers, and other government departments to deliver the research activities to support the delivery of the hydrogen economy and to provide the research advice and evidence for policy input and development.
Governance and management
The hubs will share some aspects and membership of governance and management bodies that reflects the need for cross-hub working and associated researchers. These bodies will be required to include appropriate industry and policy representation. Advice from users should be appropriately used in the hub decision-making strategy to grow user engagement in terms of funding from the outset and an effective user engagement strategy must be in place to support this.
Contributing to place based agendas for hydrogen
Many places in the UK have ambitious plans to develop green hydrogen and low carbon alternative liquid fuels both as a contribution to achieving net zero, increased inward investment and as a source of high-quality jobs.
The hubs should relate to and connect effectively with local, regional (including where appropriate devolved administrations and their bodies) research and innovation ecosystems, drawing on and contributing to the local economy.
Coordinators should demonstrate how the hub will contribute to the strategy and delivery of national and regional priorities for green hydrogen including methods for deriving insights from places across the UK to shape and inform the programme.
Alongside this funding opportunity, EPSRC has supported a portfolio of research proposals as part of the production and integration of zero emission hydrogen opportunity. These create a platform of research on which the coordinators will be able to build. The coordinators are required to engage the recipients of the production and integration of zero emission hydrogen research opportunity to inform the development of the hubs.
However, no commitment has been made to provide follow-on funding for projects funded as part of the hydrogen research opportunity through the hydrogen hubs development. This is subject to the identified programme requirements.
The hubs will work in partnership, tackling cross-sectoral issues and providing leadership to the UK hydrogen research endeavour and the next generation of net zero researchers, innovators, and policy makers.
The hubs will act as a central focus point for collaboration with both existing and future hydrogen use sector research investments including our co-designed applied industry research programmes and other relevant programmes in the UK hydrogen research and innovation landscape.
A critical feature of the hubs will be their ability to tackle the most pressing needs of businesses, UK government departments, and policy makers across the UK to secure both UK commercial advantage and policy objectives. This will ensure effective two-way engagement, and information and knowledge exchange between all related investments and hubs to accelerate research and development.
The hubs are expected to engage proactively with other major complementary investments in the hydrogen and energy research and development landscape as detailed in Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s hydrogen funding landscape and the hydrogen investor roadmap. They are also expected to engage with any relevant research and innovation investments made by UKRI and other public funders, including hydrogen innovation investments funded by Innovate UK.
The hubs are expected to create demonstrable leadership on an international scale focusing on the UK’s hydrogen leadership role in in mitigating climate change through net zero.
Ensuring and increasing public awareness of the use of hydrogen across the energy system and the importance of delivering the Hydrogen economy is essential. The hubs are expected to deliver effective public engagement plans to co-create the research programme and outcomes, ensuring the solutions being developed are accessible and inclusive.
Policy partnerships and industrial engagement
Securing the engagement and buy-in of relevant users will be essential to the success of the hubs, and leveraging support from project partners is a requirement for this phase of the process.
At the full proposal phase, it is important for coordinators to demonstrate that they have secured meaningful project partner interest and contributions to the prioritised, proposed research programme. The coordinators should detail the planned approaches to elicit more leveraged support as further research activities are prioritised during the hubs lifetime. The coordinators should detail the cash and in-kind contributions project partners will provide, as has been agreed at the point of application.
To ensure that research outcomes from the hubs can be fully exploited by industry and policy at all spatial levels, EPSRC expect to see clear evidence of genuine, substantive partnerships, with co-creation and co-delivery of projects and activities, in addition to financial contributions.
In the hub governance procedures, advice from users must be appropriately used in the hub decision-making strategy to grow user engagement in terms of funding and numbers of users. To evidence your strong partnerships, coordinators are asked to include a user engagement strategy in their full proposals.
The hubs are expected to take an open and inclusive approach and to grow and evolve over the lifetime of the grant. To reflect this, it is expected that the coordinators should develop a flexible approach to the research agenda and priorities of the programme beyond the first 12 months of the hubs to account for changes in the landscape, emerging opportunities and industrial sector priorities.
Given the commercial interest and needs for this critical area of technology, at application phase EPSRC expects the hubs to each evidence at least 30p of matched funding (from the private sector, and regional and civic bodies) to every £1 of EPSRC investment. Throughout the lifetime of the hubs, the number of project partners will increase and cash or in-kind contributions rising to a level matching the EPSRC funding contribution, of at least £1 of additional investment to every £1 of EPSRC funding.
The panel will be asked to assess evidence of stakeholder interest and contributions, in the context of the disciplines and sectors involved. Coordinators should make the case for why the total project partner support at full proposal phase, and planned approaches towards eliciting more leveraged support, are appropriate in the context and reach of their submission.
Host organisation support
The host organisations will also be expected to demonstrate substantial support for the hub through cash or in-kind contributions. 20% full economic cost contribution to any funded grant will not count towards the consideration of matched funding.
Host organisations should use the host organisation statement to clearly describe:
- their long-term strategy for hydrogen and how this links to their role in the local, regional and national research and development landscape
- how their hydrogen strategy complements the UK landscape
- how they anticipate the hub will enable them to deliver their strategy
- their intended approach to supporting the individual, their team, and their research activity to enable their full potential contribution to the UK to be realised.
Monitoring and evaluation
Coordinators should make provision in their proposals to track the hubs’ contribution and impacts to the UK’s hydrogen economy across the UK. Detailed guidance will be provided after the awards have been made but is it likely to include a mid-term review of the hubs and a final evaluation of the programme.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
As leaders in the community, hubs will be expected to embed EDI in all their activities throughout the lifetime of the hub. If funded, this will include identifying the specific EDI challenges and barriers in their own environment and developing a strategy to address these, with reference to EPSRC’s published expectations for EDI.
Hubs must ensure that they request appropriate resources to develop and deliver their EDI strategy effectively.
Responsible innovation and environmental sustainability
The hubs must follow the principles and guidance contained within UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy, regarding the sustainability of the research methodologies used. The hubs must also consider the responsible innovation and environmental sustainability aspects of the proposed research approaches, and the associated outputs and outcomes.
Delivery of the UK hydrogen economy provides an opportunity for the UK to achieve more sustainable and clean economic growth and prosperity. This should involve the consideration of the risks, costs and trade-offs associated with different materials, technologies and approaches and an appropriate degree of application of tools such as life cycle analysis.
The full economic cost of your project can be up to £12.5 million. EPSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost. We will fund up to two hubs.
The coordinators are expected to request the funding required to achieve the objectives and outcomes they have proposed for the hub. This may include, but is not limited to, funding for:
- the coordinators’ time to lead the hub, and co-investigators to provide the required interdisciplinary inclusive approach
- staff to support the integration, coordination, knowledge exchange and publication activities of the hub
- research staff and associated consumables
- travel and subsistence
- flexible funding to support agile research on emerging topics and to support the involvement of discrete parts of the community that would bring significant benefit to the programme but have not otherwise been engaged
- funding to support impact activities (including stakeholder and user engagement, policy engagement and public engagement)
- funding to support networking and community building activities, to enable engagement and collaboration across key disciplines and sectors, and with policy officials
- funding to support governance, monitoring and evaluation activities.
The coordinators should retain flexibility within the overall programme of work to allow for the Hub to respond to emerging priorities and opportunities.
Equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) is not available through this opportunity. Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘Directly Incurred – Other Costs’ heading.
Read more about EPSRC’s approach to equipment funding.
Funding is available for up to five years and must start no earlier than 1 April 2023.