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Innovating for a sustainable future

Towards net zero

The only way to truly get to net zero is through innovating in existing industries, creating new business models and considering the environment as a business stakeholder. Recovery from the pandemic presents a renewed opportunity for the UK to become the global hub for sustainable technologies, founded on advanced digital solutions.

Advanced digital technologies can deliver numerous benefits for organisations’ green credentials, helping businesses to measure environmental impact, reduce waste, reduce costs, and increase productivity and optimisation. It’s critical that the UK’s manufacturing and creative industries become familiar with solutions that will accelerate their journey to net zero, exploring, testing and deploying green, digital solutions as permanent solutions for their business.

Many businesses are serious about investment in sustainability, but becoming more sustainable requires an understanding of environmental impact that is not ingrained across industry today.

Accelerating industrial net zero

Digital Catapult is working with the manufacturing and creative industries to reduce their negative environmental impacts and reach net zero emissions. With TWI Limited, we have established the Industrial Net Zero Innovation Centre (INZIC) in Cambridge, to find ways of using advanced digital technologies to measure environmental impact, reduce waste, optimise use and extend asset life, and improve end-of-life recyclability in the aerospace, utilities and energy sectors. Digital Catapult’s Field Labs provide organisations with an environment in which to deploy and test the latest distributed ledger technologies (DLT) in real-world (and close to real-world) conditions, demonstrating the impact DLT can have on business processes.


The Ecometer

As part of the Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) project, in partnership with the National Composites Centre (NCC), we developed the Ecometer, a new tool to monitor and analyse data from energy usage and convert it into a carbon footprint. This tool gives engineers granular insights into the energy consumption of their machines and processes in real time.

Currently using data generated from an automated fibre processing facility in Bristol, the Ecometer supports real-time decisions on the carbon intensity of industrial processes. In the future, there will be a fully commercial product which can be used to understand the carbon emissions from across multiple sites – not just for the specific product, but for the entire supply chain.

How innovations like the ‘Eco-meter’ will help slash industry’s carbon footprint

Greening supply chains

Current supply chains are disparate and fragmented, with sporadic data-sharing and poor information flow, leading to materials and energy being wasted at every stage. Digital Catapult is involved in a number of projects that are using increased business interest in emerging technologies to help align supply chain knowledge, particularly in the food and drink, and additive manufacturing sectors. The Digital Sandwich project will deliver an open, national demonstrator of a digitalised food supply chain, using sandwich manufacturing as the use case, and aims to reduce waste and costs and increase productivity. Digital Catapult’s role in the AIEVO consortium is about optimising data-sharing in the supply chain and delivering cost savings, while reducing carbon emissions and significantly reducing waste. We’re also collaborating with the Catapult Network to deliver insights to the UK business community, including research conducted with Energy Systems Catapult into total carbon traceability, and a report examining a potential ‘hydrogen economy’ and the role of hydrogen in meeting net zero targets.

Developing an environmentally positive digital ecosystem

Digital Catapult is helping make the UK a hub of environmentally positive digital technology by offering support to small businesses and entrepreneurs in four areas: onsite energy efficiency, optimised operations, sustainable supply chains, and zero waste manufacturing that supports a circular economy. The launch cohort of our Futurescope programme was focused on sustainability and net zero products, applications and solutions and the 5PRING programme’s Green Innovation Challenge, in partnership with the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), challenged startups to help WMCA deliver on its WM2041 strategy, covering use and access to green spaces, sustainable transport solutions, low carbon power systems, and energy efficiency in the built environment.

Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley has worked closely with Sunderland City Council and the UK startup community to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions across the Council’s real estate, and to use data to understand how the Council can shape sustainable transport methods. Our support has extended into mentoring young entrepreneurs with Samsung on its Gen Z tech competition ‘Solve for Tomorrow’. We worked closely with young entrepreneurs who were developing practical technology solutions to help tackle key challenges faced by society.

Advanced digital solutions for the energy and utilities industries

Resilient energy networks are the key to transition to a carbon free energy system. We’re working with companies in the energy sector to implement solutions using internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and distributed ledger technologies that help to balance consumer and business demand for energy with an increasingly varied mix of energy generation sources. We are working with National Grid to deliver the UK’s first feasibility report to assess the opportunity for adoption of 5G within the electricity and gas transmission networks. We’re also working with Northern Gas Networks – one of the UK’s biggest gas distribution networks, which has taken part in the inaugural IoT Discovery programme – to understand how it can deploy scalable proof-of-concept IoT projects with a view to scaling sustainably. Our work is branching out into other parts of the utilities sector that are keen to understand how digitalisation can help. Northumbrian Water, the world’s most ethical water company, was one of the seven challenge owners on the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator programme seeking innovative solutions for fixing sewer blockages, as well as for monitoring and real-time analysis of water quality within the distribution network.

Our commitment to the UN Global Compact

Digital Catapult has signed up to the United Nations Global Compact, one of the Race to Zero pledges and the world’s largest sustainability initiative, with more than 17,000 member organisations. The Global Compact provides Digital Catapult with a well-defined framework to work within and an annual opportunity to assess the progress we’ve made in environmental and social sustainability. In addition to the commitment to sustainable business practices, the Global Compact allows us to join the UK network of over 600 companies that have committed to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 principles that provide a blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all, where advanced digital technologies have a key role to play.