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Technology and sustainability expert shares her thoughts on Digital Catapult’s impact

Posted 28 Nov 2023

After a decade of digital innovation our board share their reflections and look to the future…

As we celebrate Digital Catapult’s ten year anniversary we sat down for an interview with technology & sustainability trailblazer and Non-Executive Director, Belinda Howell, to discuss Digital Catapult’s impact.

As a non-executive board member of Digital Catapult, what are you the most proud of about the organisation?

It’s great to see Digital Catapult successful growth and diversification, particularly over the last five years. The work Digital Catapult is doing now to concentrate on supporting sustainable growth in the economy, which is critical as digital technology underpins the transition to net zero, is also vitally important.  

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in adopting advanced digital technologies right now?

Some of the biggest challenges include keeping up with the rapid growth and deep development of a whole range of transformative digital technologies – whether it is future networks, artificial intelligence, immersive technologies, distributed systems or quantum technologies.

Opportunities lie in Digital Catapult’s – perhaps unique – ability to enable cross-technology collaboration to blend what these technologies offer into solutions for real-world issues.  We must consider the interplay of various technologies and industries to achieve a meaningful transition to a Net Zero economy.  For example balancing electricity supply and demand from intermittent, distributed renewables and energy storage, whilst enabling a doubling in electricity use as we move towards Net Zero will require the applications of multiple advanced digital technologies in tandem with one another. 

If you could make one challenge to your peers in the deep tech ecosystem, what would it be?

To reduce the environmental footprint of digital technologies, colleagues in the deep tech ecosystem should focus on several key considerations. These include optimising algorithms and models for energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy sources to power digital infrastructure, implementing data centre efficiency measures, and promoting responsible data management practices.

Collaboration between industry stakeholders, policymakers, and researchers is crucial for sharing best practices and driving systemic change.

How do you envision Digital Catapult in the next 5 – 10 years?

Increasingly digital technologies provide solutions that reach across multiple sectors.  I envision Digital Catapult being ever increasingly deeply collaborative with other Catapults. For example, Digital Catapult is part of a cross-Catapult collaboration called the Hydrogen Innovation Initiative (HII), bringing together strengths and capabilities from across the Network to accelerate innovation, develop growth in the UK hydrogen supply chain and overcome technology and integration challenges to establish an effective UK hydrogen economy. Advances in hydrogen technology will play a critical role in delivering net zero, and the UK is well-positioned to become a leader in the development and deployment of hydrogen technology. The HII programme will build on multiple projects already underway across the Catapult Network to help secure UK capabilities, knowledge and assets to capture global investment in hydrogen innovation.

What is your top memory from your time as a Board member? 

Every time I walk into Digital Catapult offices, there is an infectious buzz of energy and diversity of people meeting and collaborating together.

What is your favourite Digital Catapult moment of the last 10 years? 

Achieving £42 million match-funded investment for Northern Ireland Smart Nano Innovation initiative.  Building on this long-term investment – in collaboration with the NI Department for the Economy – the Smart Manufacturing project will foster cross-sector innovation in nanotechnology manufacturing and photonics, putting Northern Ireland at the leading edge of leveraging advanced digital technologies for industry. 

What is your favourite or most memorable partner, programme or project?

It has to be the Made Smarter Digital Supply Chain Hub programme. Working with dozens of organisations, Digital Catapult is helping develop efficient climate accounting practices to better understand the environmental and social impact upstream in supply chains and downstream in product life cycles. This work incentivises supply chain partners to make sustainable design and sourcing choices and investments. These choices are critical to net zero and resilient, traceable supply chains in the UK. 

 

BelindaHowell2

Belinda Howell

Non Executive Director