Destination Decarbonisation Day 3: Innovation

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Alex Burrows Director of BCRRE Rail Alliance provides a quick overview on today’s Destination Decarbonisation: Innovation Day, what it involved and covers some of the questions that came in.

Today was the third and final day of our Destination Decarbonisation ONference delivered by BCRRE and the Rail Alliance.  Today we were also joined by our colleagues from the Digi-Rail  project to discuss innovation, how to accelerate innovation onto the railway, and how to support SMEs.

Destination Decarbonisation: Innovation
Destination Decarbonisation: Innovation

Following our successful two sessions on Policy and Research respectively, this final session focused on the development of products and solutions and bringing them to market successfully.

Undertaking innovation in the rail sector can be tough.  Our sector is complex, highly-regulated, safety-critical, and comes with form for infrequent and large procurement exercises meaning opportunities can be few and far-between.  In addition the high capital requirements alongside the significant domain knowledge that are vital to gaining a market foothold make rail market entry a real battle for dynamic organisations with great ideas but little rail experience.

We want to mitigate this and are building up the capacity and resources to do so.  BCRRE is the largest specialist rail research, education and innovation institution in Europe bringing together 170 academics, researchers and rail professionals at the University of Birmingham.  BCRRE incorporates the Rail Alliance and the ERDF-funded Digi-Rail project – both of whom are supporting rail SMEs to succeed in the rail industry.  We are also the lead university in the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) and lead on Introducing Innovation theme working to build greater collaboration between industry and universities.

In today’s session, we were joined by Al-Amin Dabo (Business Engagement Manager for Digi-Rail at BCRRE), and two SMEs who are being supported by the Digi-Rail project – Jon Wills (Business Development Officer at Worcester Scientific) and Paul Arkesden (Global Progams Director at RLE futuremotiv).  In addition we also welcomed James Thomas (Technology & Engineering Chief  Engineer at TP Group), Leo Murray (Director of Communication and Innovation at Riding Sunbeams) and Marcelo Blumenfeld (Industrial Fellow at BCRRE).

Thank you to all of our speakers for a set of really interesting presentations that were both hugely informative but also very relevant in illustrating the landscape for making innovation happen in rail.

The presentations will all be available on the new-look Rail Alliance website ( next week along with the Panel Q&A session.  I share some of the highlights from the panel session below:

Alstom plans to retrofit class 321 units for hydrogen power at their Widnes depot and start delivery of to Eversholt Rail by 2022. Do you plan to deliver your Hydroflex version to Porterbrook by then, and if so, where will the conversion take place? (David Dundas)

The joint BCRRE/Porterbrook HydroFLEX project continues development work at pace and we will be running on the UK mainline railway shortly.  The plans for introducing HydroFLEX into operation are currently commercially confidential.

Great presentations everyone – question for Paul Arkesden – both rail/automotive are highly regulated, but how has he found transferring to rail and what challenges has he found/lessons learnt he can bring from automotive (Noel Dolphin)

There is clearly much that can be learnt from adjacent industries such as automotive.  Working with the Digi-Rail team has been hugely beneficial in terms of providing domain knowledge and support in understanding the rail industry and its complexity!

As well as monitoring air quality and reducing carbon emissions, are there considerations for cleaning/filtering out contaminants such as NOx and fine dust from the air within the infrastructure, such as at stations? (Mark Biddulph)

There are means of doing this in terms of connecting the sensors with the existing HVAC systems to pre-emptively address emissions/air quality issues as they occur.  The efficacy of these existing systems iss not known but this is an area of potential.

With connecting solar and wind directly to OLE, will there also be provision for grid connections in case of low generation? What about combination with storage solutions? (Heather Steel)

We were joined by Ollie Pendered from Rising Sunbeams to discuss the potential for driving locally-generated renewable energy straight into the rail power supply.  There is clearly potential for this and the subject of local energy storage solutions is certainly an area of great potential.

How rapidly could a hydrogen generation solution be delivered? (Charles Clavert)

James Thomas (TP Group) responded that this is being looked at and that there is a clear route for this technology to transfer from maritime to other applications such as rail in the near future.

Picking up on Leo’s point, how do SMEs access the industry. We are two years in to a storage project and still trying to find a way for NR to resolve the Catch-22 of giving them something they want but can’t procure as it is novel and we are an SME. (Edgar Goddard)

This is a key issue, procurement is one of the critical barriers to innovation as it can be the barrier that prevents rail from ever benefiting from innovative new products and solutions.  We (BCRRE) are the lead for innovation within the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network and this as an area that Marcelo and I are responsible for investigating and identifying how we can enable more successful innovation activity and market impact for the rail supply industry.  For specific projects, we are happy to provide support and advice and potentially get involved if there is a role we can play.

How are larger businesses that are not well known and involved in the industry able to get further involved? (Mark Biddulph)

We can provide support on that front as BCRRE with the wider UK Rail Research and Innovation Network and also with our Rail Alliance community which comprises more than 700 rail organisations.  Please check out our website and get in touch if you would like to find out more.

Many thanks to everyone who has taken part as a speaker or attended our second edition of Destination Decarbonisation.  I would also like to thank my team who have shown real adaptability, ingenuity and a can-do attitude to switch from planning a one day event to preparing and successfully delivering our 3 day ONference.

To keep up-to-date on BCRRE and the Rail Alliance and Digi-Rail activity please follow our twitter pages: @bcrre @therailalliance @digi_rail 

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