Department of Mechanical Engineering

Sustainable Energy Research Team

Wind turbineThe Sustainable Energy Research Team (SERT) was set up as a research unit that aims to promote sustainability through high quality research and publications.

Climate change

Modern science is finally demonstrating anthropogenic climate change to be a reality. We are experiencing rising temperatures and extreme weather on a previously unseen scale.

Contact details

Tel: +44 (0) 1225 383877

Towards a low-carbon future

Geoff Hammond and Áine O'Grady discuss research into energy production and a low carbon future. Read more »

It is also estimated that we are currently exceeding the carrying capacity of our planet by 20% [WWF, 2002] and therefore it is clear that action must be taken to not only limit but also reverse the long term damage, ensuring that we live on this planet in a sustainable manner.

Our research

The team is actively involved in broad and highly topical research areas, including:

  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • Microgeneration
  • Embodied Energy and Carbon
  • Energy Demand Reduction in Industry
  • Thermodynamic Analysis
  • Bioenergy Production
  • Environmental Footprinting
  • Environmental Economics

We have a multidisciplinary team, including engineers and scientists.


Further details

SERT is a research unit that aims to promote sustainability through high quality research and publications, currently the team is actively involved in broad and highly topical research areas, including:

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

The team is using LCA to determine the life time environmental impacts and benefits of a number of different products and systems. These include micro and large-scale wind, nuclear, solar thermal, solar PV, ground source heat pumps and combined heat and power systems. The benefits and shortcomings of the use of different bio-energy systems is explored using LCA, comparing the use of domestic and imported fuel, the impact of land use changes, including the resultant potential lack of land for food crops. The team is also examining the use of LCA in policy making and governance, together with its use and success in the practice of sustainable procurement.


A variety of microgeneration options are being assessed by the research team, using thermodynamic (energy & exergy) analysis, LCA and economic cost-benefit analysis techniques. This three-part appraisal will provide a multi-disciplinary perspective in the assessments. The technologies under consideration include micro-wind, solar thermal, solar PV, ground source heat pumps and combined heat and power systems. The work is funded by the EPSRC-led SUPERGEN consortium on Highly Distributed Power Systems and HiDef.

Embodied energy and carbon

The embodied energy and carbon of over 200 materials was benchmarked and summarised into the Inventory of Carbon & Energy (ICE). ICE has been used to assess the energy and carbon impact of constructing new buildings in both the domestic and non-domestic building sectors. An ICE Housing Model is currently being developed, it will enable the embodied energy and carbon impact of a specific domestic building to be modelled and benchmarked against the status quo.

Thermodynamic analysis and energy demand reduction in industry

The objective of this work is to determine the energy demand reductions achievable across the whole industrial sector within the UK. The theoretical potential is determined, as well as the economic and technical constraints upon such potential. A major part of the work involves the construction of an energy database for the industrial sector, incorporating detailed bottom-up studies of important manufacturing subsectors. These studies encompass energy and exergy analysis to determine the thermodynamic potential for improvement. Additionally technologies are identified that can reduce emissions from the current baseline. The work is being funded by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and forms part of the broader Energy Demand Reduction theme.


The impact of various bioenergy production routes is examined using CCT. Differing LCA methodological approaches, including allocation issues and system expansion, are analysed. In addition, a regional assessment is being made of resource availability, environmental performance and socio-economic benefits and costs. This involves the evaluation of crop production, conversion technology analyses, and Lifecycle Assessment from 'cradle to grave' of bioenergy systems. The study will determine the suitability of exploiting bioenergy within the region and its effects towards the UK's renewable energy commitments. The work is funded by the BBS RC and previously by the UKERC, GWR and the Environment Agency.

Environmental footprinting

Environmental or 'ecological' footprints are a simple, yet useful measure of the resources consumed and the wastes produced by a given population, under existing technology. Footprints vary between countries at different stages of economic development and varying geographic characteristics. The current work has assessed the determinants of environmental footprints using dimensional analysis to show the relative significance of each factor.

Environmental economics

The Supergen Consortium developed energy scenarios that span from 1996 until 2050. Within these scenarios, specifically 'Business as Usual', 'Low Carbon', and 'Deep Green', almost every conceivable source of energy is listed both renewable and non-renewable and central or distributed. It is our role to undergo a Cost-Benefit Analysis of the each scenario as a whole, so in the end the one with the greatest Net Present Value (NPV) is singled out - indicating the economic costs of the different scenarios.

Over a period of some 15-20 years, the international community has been grappling with the task of defining the concept of 'sustainable development'. It came to prominence as a result of the so-called Brundtland report, published in 1987 under the title Our Common Future.

The report was the outcome of four years of study and debate by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), who argued that the time had come to couple economy and ecology so that the wider community would take responsibility for both the causes and consequences of environmental damage. It viewed sustainable development as balancing the 'three pillars' of economic and social development with environmental protection.

This new paradigm was given an even higher profile in the context of the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, which adopted the strapline 'people, planet, prosperity'. It defined sustainable development as 'meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. [Extract from Hammond 2006, Natural Resources Forum 30]