Research authored by Bath engineers has this week been debated in the House of Lords by peers considering plans to dramatically and rapidly cut UK emissions in view of looming pressures from climate change.

The report, Absolute Zero from the UK FIRES research collaboration which is led by colleagues at the University of Cambridge, suggests the UK could meet its climate ambitions in the short term ‘with incremental changes in today’s technologies’. By focusing on technologies that can be deployed at scale within the next 30 years, Absolute Zero reveals a pathway for an industrial renaissance in the UK, delivering the materials, buildings, equipment and services compatible with zero emissions.

Discussion in the Lords on Thursday centred on the issue that deployment rates for breakthrough technologies are slow, due to the need for regulation and public consultation. The report suggests a mindset change is required, whereby we plan for zero emissions with today’s technologies and enjoy breakthroughs later.

The authors highlight that with incremental changes to today’s technologies, by 2050 we could enjoy an electrified life very similar to now, however during a transition period widespread changes will be required to reduce flying, shipping, cement production as well as over-reliance on cattle for meat and dairy production. Beyond a transition period, they point to a positive future once 'Absolute Zero' is implemented, with a huge opportunity for innovation and business growth.

Dr Rick Lupton of Bath’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, one of the lead authors for the report, explained: "Getting to zero carbon by 2050 will involve some rapid and large-scale changes, but we can get there — with incremental changes to today's technologies we'll be able to enjoy an electrified life largely similar to what we enjoy now. There are a few areas where zero-carbon technologies are just not ready yet, so we'll have to restrain our use of flying, shipping, cement and eating beef and lamb until they are.

“What's exciting about the Absolute Zero approach is that we can start right now: rather than waiting for someone somewhere else to develop breakthrough technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) that promise to solve the problem, individuals can change the way they eat and travel right now; architects and engineers can change the way buildings are designed and constructed right now; and governments can take action to support these changes right now."

Tim Ibell, Professor of Structural Engineering from the University of Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering added: “Achieving zero carbon by 2050 requires major changes in construction to be made quickly, based on evidence. It is a wonderful challenge, in truth, and will bring out the greatest built-environment engineering innovations we have seen in decades. Some decisions will be extremely tough, even unthinkable until recently. But we have no choice. We have a duty to look our children in the eye and say that we did our best to decarbonise quickly. This report lays out the reality of what lies ahead, and the opportunities that await us beyond 2050.”

UK FIRES is a collaboration between the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London. It is funded by the EPSRC (the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). UK FIRES also involves a subscribing consortium of industrial partners who meet as a ‘Living Lab’.