Sustainable Environment Accelerator

The momentum behind sustainability is increasing - the University of South Wales recognizes the increased need for transparency and responsibility, and we pride ourselves in the sustainability measures applied within our facilities, partnerships, and research. We are helping to create a safer, more sustainable world with our ground-breaking multi-disciplinary research in hydrogen, ecology, anaerobic digestion, and advanced power systems. In partnership with local and global companies, we are working to deliver the output in ways that benefit both the university and the wider community. By embedding sustainability across our curriculum, we are equipping the next generation of professionals with the necessary skills to help them face future global challenges across a range of sectors. 

Our curriculum

From decarbonisation of heat and power to the circular economy, hydrogen energy, and the greening of industry, the use of renewable and sustainable engineering, technology and processes bring with them new opportunities. 

Our world-leading experts use their cutting-edge research to develop curriculum that help our students to address the challenges facing the world, now and in the future.  

View our courses:  

Our Research

HYDROGEN


Hydrogen is gaining prominence as a means of storing and transporting energy as its by-products, when burnt as a fuel or used within a fuel cell, are just pure water. Hydrogen cars can be refuelled in a similar time and have comparable range to petrol or diesel cars without the emission of greenhouse gases, this makes hydrogen a promising mass-use clean fuel.

The technological challenge we face is to generate the hydrogen in the first place. Steam Methane Reformation splits natural gas (methane) into hydrogen and CO2, if the CO2 is then captured and stored this is referred to as blue hydrogen.  Green hydrogen is generated through the electrolysis of water which is energy intensive and less than 100% efficient, however green hydrogen is a way of storing excess energy from renewable energy sources such as wind, wave and tidal during the night when consumer demand is low. The hydrogen gas can be stored under pressure indefinitely and transported through pipelines like natural gas. 

ANAEROBIC DIGESTION


Anaerobic digestion utilises biological processes in the absence of oxygen to convert/recycle industrial gases and consumer waste into valuable organic compounds, and for waste water treatment. Our Centre of Excellence for Anaerobic Digestion works with industrial partners on developing processes and scale-up from laboratory, through pilot...


... - and onto industrial-scale facilities to generate bio-methane and other pre-cursors.   

BATTERIES


Batteries were used in electric cars a hundred years ago, but have remained in niche applications in milk floats and diesel-electric submarines. Their use was reduced as new chemistries such as alkaline, nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) and then lithium ion could pack more energy in smaller space with less weight than lead-acid batteries.

These new battery technologies have allowed for the adoption of mobile phones, tablet and laptop computers but also for the wider development of petrol-electric hybrid, and more recently full electric vehicles (EVs) with usable range. Our Centre for Automotive Power Systems Engineering (CAPSE) has been at the forefront of the development of hybrid engines for over a decade.  More recently we have expanded to become the largest battery testing and validation centre in Europe with the ability to measure 24 full EV battery packs under controlled climatic conditions simultaneously with over a hundred individual cells.  In addition, we have a unique capability to safety test full EV battery packs through crush, drop, water ingress and fire tests to current regulatory standards.  Our partnership with Ricardo is helping many major European automotive manufacturers develop EVs and hence our transition to green transportation. 

SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT


National and world-leading research within our Sustainable Environment Research Centre (SERC) focusses on developing the technologies for the generation, storage, distribution and integration of hydrogen into our economy for heating and...

... and mobility of goods and people through road, rail and air transportation. Our Hydrogen Centre near Port Talbot includes the longest operational hydrogen refuelling station in Wales. We are integral partners in major regional networks such as FLEXIS and the South Wales Industrial Cluster (SWIC), working with industry to advance green technologies for our futures.

SUSTAINABLE BUILDING MATERIALS


Much of humankind’s activity negatively affects the environment in which we live.  Construction, with materials such as steel and concrete, is no exception. Our Advanced Materials Testing Centre (AMTeC) is exploring new sustainable ...

... building materials which utilise recycled aggregates to replace cement or industrial waste activators for geopolymer binders for civil engineering infrastructure applications.  AMTeC work with international partners to help them address global challenges in construction through using locally available materials and technologies.  

BIODIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEMS


We investigate species, population and community relationships with anthropogenic drivers of change to biodiversity, ecosystems, and the provision of co-beneficial goods and services. Our outcomes inform conservation and ...

... restoration options, processes and policies that remediate impacts of anthropic activities.  Our Wildlife Ecology team undertake and support field research in the Azores, Costa Rica, Honduras, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa and the UK.  Our Geography research team have interests in climate change and sustainable environment management. 


USW has had a significant increase in the amount of world leading research according to the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) outcomes. There has been a 49% improvement in world leading research (categorised as 4*) at USW since the last REF in 2014. 

USW is now fourth in Wales for impact (up from eighth in 2014, based on 4* / 3*) with 81% of USW’s research impact being classed as world leading or internationally excellent (4* / 3*). Almost two thirds of the USW researchers submitted to REF 2021 have research that has been categorised as world leading or internationally excellent (4* or 3*).

Our facilities

The Chemistry/Analytical Facilities are arguably on a par with those found in industry. Students make full use of the laboratories during their studies and gain hands on experience using the extensive analytical equipment.  

Built to the latest standards of safety, our laboratories include a dedicated Organic chemistry laboratory, a combined Inorganic/Physical chemistry laboratory, two general instrument laboratories, a dedicated student research laboratory, and two specialised laboratories for performing nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometry and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). 

Our dedicated engineering facilities include an Aerospace Centre, which houses its very own aircraft, a suite of practical training facilities approved by the aerospace industry, and electronics labs supplemented with world-leading Renesas technologies. We have continually updated our facilities, so students have access to the latest industry-standard equipment and software.  

The Hydrogen Centre is a focal point for new research, development and demonstration of hydrogen energy technology in Wales.  

Building on the University’s established research into hydrogen energy through the Sustainable Environment Research Centre (SERC), the Hydrogen Centre at the Baglan Energy Park in Port Talbot, provides a platform for the experimental development of renewable hydrogen production and novel hydrogen energy storage. The centre enables further research and development of hydrogen vehicles, fuel cell applications and overall hydrogen energy systems. The Centre is the focal point for a series of collaborative projects between the University of South Wales and other academic and industrial partners. 

The Anaerobic Digestion (AD) Centre at our Glyntaff Campus in Treforest undertakes targeted research and development in collaboration with industry to improve the efficiency of anaerobic digestion processes and to develop innovative products and processes across the AD and industrial biotechnology sector. 

The AD Centre has state of the art equipment and facilities and is one of the best equipped laboratories in the country that is entirely devoted to developing improved and innovative anaerobic processes and promoting the efficient use of process outputs. This, coupled with over forty years of research and development expertise and a strong industry knowledge, means that the Centre is well placed to support the needs of the growing AD and biogas industry.  

Our partnerships

Green energy

Greener tomorrows

USW experts are working with TATA Steel to make its processes greener and cheaper. 

Spanning sustainability, decarbonisation, carbon capture and data science, a host of research and industrial projects are putting in place processes that will help to limit emissions and improve efficiencies. 

TATA Steel is working as an industrial partner on a range of multi-million-pound research projects involving USW’s Sustainable Environment Resource Centre (SERC), including FLEXIS (Flexible Integrated Energy Systems) and RICE (Reduced Industrial Carbon Emissions). 

One such project has been investigating the decarbonisation of the steelmaking process, by replacing coke with hydrogen as the reducing agent for iron ore. The development of a far-reaching plan could help to reduce the company’s CO2 emissions over the next 25-30 years. 

SERC and TATA Steel have also formed the South Wales Industrial Cluster. Now made up of 46 industrial partners, it has secured government funding to develop a regional industrial decarbonisation roadmap and to initiate carbon reduction deployment projects at Tata Steel, Valero Refinery, Tarmac Cement works, and RWE’s Pembroke power station. 

"The support we receive from TATA is excellent. The funding and collaboration for PhD studentships and larger R&D projects has led to a close working relationship resulting in strong academic outputs and industrial demonstrators. Working together in this way has allowed us to identify how our research can help TATA with the important challenges of decarbonisation, and provide solutions for an Ultra-Low CO2 steel making future in Wales and the UK.” 

Professor Alan Guwy 

Director of the Sustainable Environment Resource Centre, USW 

“Over the last five years we have built up our work with the University of South Wales and have a number of active PhD and research projects underway. We were initially looking to work with experts in hydrogen, but that has now progressed to working together on a wider range of project areas within the Sustainable Environment Resource Centre at the University, as well as with experts in data science. 

“The University has also helped us to expand our network of contacts, which has already seen us work with new suppliers and use novel equipment for our industry that is helping us to improve our ways of working.” 

Dr Gareth Lloyd 

Process Engineering Manager, TATA Steel 

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Developing sustainable fuels

New hydrogen storage technology is a step-closer thanks to work between USW and Hydro-Québec’s Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage (CETEES)

Patented hydrogen storage technology, arising from USW research, has been transferred to Hydro-Québec, to enable its commercialisation as part of ongoing efforts to decarbonise industry and provide alternative, cleaner sources of energy.  

This technology has several key advantages over existing hydrogen storage options, including: 

  • Greater storage capacity 
  • Less weight for the same storage capacity 
  • Increased safety linked to a lower tank pressure 
  • Lower manufacturing costs 
  • Simplified infrastructure need 
  • No need for liquefaction step, generating savings in large-scale transport 

The applications for this novel energy storage technology are numerous and include transporting large quantities of hydrogen safely, or being able to have reservoirs of hydrogen-powered vehicles that can hold larger quantities of hydrogen in a smaller space, making hydrogen more viable for a variety of vehicle types while bringing the cost down significantly. 

Hydrogen is considered an important key to allow the decarbonization of several sectors of the economy which cannot easily be electrified. However, several challenges need to be overcome in order to bring it to mass market, with a major one being its storage. We are thus very excited to work with The University of South Wales to tackle one of these major challenges.”  

Jean Matte 

Senior Director of Hydro-Québec’s research center (CRHQ) 

“The Sustainable Environment Research Centre at USW and colleagues working in Chemistry, have been working to develop hydrogen-based technology for many years. They have built-up considerable expertise in this area by working with our international partners, including Hydro-Québec. Supporting a sustainable environment is something that we are continually working towards as part of wider efforts to decarbonise sectors such as industry and transport, to improve air quality and limit long-term health impacts.” 

Professor Paul Harrison 

Pro Vice-Chancellor for Innovation and Engagement, USW 

South Wales Industrial Cluster map

Decarbonising industry in South Wales

USW is the academic lead for the South Wales Industrial Cluster (SWIC), a consortium which is developing a plan for decarbonising industry in the South Wales region. 

SWIC is made up of some of Wales’ top industry, energy, infrastructure, legal, academic, and engineering organisations. Combined, these businesses employ more than 100,000 people and are committed to creating a net-zero-carbon economy in Wales which supports sustainable jobs and communities. SWIC’s aim is to become a world-leading, sustainable Industrial Cluster which can help meet the societal, economic, and energy needs of South Wales to 2050 and beyond. 

The Cluster will also explore the decarbonisation of heavy industry and identify how South Wales’ available resources and existing gas and electricity infrastructure can not only help heavy industry get to net-zero, but also decarbonise home heating. 

“We are delighted to be a part of the project and to be able to offer our expertise in decarbonisation and hydrogen technology as a Consortium member.  

“Working closely with industry partners, we will help to develop the most efficient technical approaches and support this with relevant R&D, as well as co-ordinating the development of skills and training to support South Wales’ industries to achieve the net-zero goal.” 

Jon Maddy 
Director of the Hydrogen Centre, USW 

 
“The UK became the first country in the world to legislate that it will become NetZero carbon by 2050, and South Wales is the second largest industrial emitter of carbon dioxide in the UK. 

“The time to step up our efforts in actively tackling decarbonisation and identify the practicalities involved in creating, revitalising and sustaining industrial practices that will truly help safeguard our future is here.” 

Dr Chris Williams 
Head of Industrial Decarbonisation, Industry Wales