Accelerating Innovation on Big-Engine Decarbonisation

Bringing together regional stakeholders to work together in decarbonising big-engine service vehicles.

Example of a big-engine vehicle

Our story

The decarbonisation of big-engine vehicles, such as road sweepers, refuse sweepers, and buses, has been identified as a significant challenge across the public sector. Zero-carbon vehicles are expensive and difficult to procure, while supplies of alternate fuel can be unreliable and hampered by a limited fuelling infrastructure.

At GSEEH, we work with local authorities across the region, many of whom have declared climate emergencies or are working towards net-zero targets, and they commonly identify transport – particularly large vehicles – as their biggest source of emissions. We started to talk to Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) about potential solutions and identified their Innovation Exchange as a great opportunity to explore innovative responses to two distinct challenges – the decarbonisation of large engines and the development of a zero-emission fuelling structure for public authority fleets.

KTN is on a mission to connect ideas, people, and communities to respond to ever-changing societal, environmental, and economic challenges and to drive positive change through innovation. Their diverse connections span business, government, funders, research, and the third sector.

Through KTN’s Innovation Exchange, we invited technology providers to develop solutions to address these two challenges with successful applicants being given the opportunity to pitch directly to interested local authorities. We received over 60 responses to the innovation challenge with eight respondents moving to the pitching stage. Respondents represented a range of institutions and organisations, from big consultancies to SMEs and academic research departments. Responses ranged from retrofitting existing vehicles – and extending the useful life of expensive equipment – to hydrogen fuel cells and smart electric vehicle charging. The organisations and institutions that were not shortlisted were invited to a more general pitching opportunity to share their ideas and solutions at a regional event.

Several projects have been developed as a direct result of this Innovation Exchange challenge. These include a successful bid for ZEBRA funding to purchase electric buses in Cambridgeshire and an ongoing Oxfordshire study, funded by Innovate UK, to explore the potential of hydrogen-powered fire engines. The projects identified through this initiative have a combined funding value (some already awarded and some pending) of over £15M.

This type of innovation event is a great way to respond to shared challenges and unlock a wide range of expertise and ideas. The projects identified have huge scalability and replicability potential, not just across this region but the country as a whole. It’s also a great way to access a breadth of decarbonisation knowledge, particularly in the face of local authority budget cuts that have seen a loss of in-house expertise in recent years.

Our advice

The Greater South East Energy Hub is a collaboration of eleven Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). These LEPs are working together to increase the number, scale, and quality of local energy projects being delivered across the greater South East region of England.

We worked closely with KTN to shape the challenge so that the technology solutions offered would meet the needs of our specific stakeholders. To do this, we gathered lots of information from local authorities about their existing fleets, challenges, and duty cycles to ensure that responses clearly met existing needs.

Following the success of this initiative, we have identified further challenges that we are planning to share through KTN’s Innovation Exchange. In early 2022, we will be setting a challenge that explores the potential of multistorey car parks to act as hubs for different energy technologies.

Our metrics

  • Value of the projects developed
  • Number of respondents
  • Success of technologies and solutions developed
  • Potential carbon savings
  • Scalability and replicability of solutions
  • Potential to support other ongoing projects
  • Funding opportunities
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