Innovation news in brief: Energy; space; graphene; Williams; epigenetics

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid opens the new Energy Innovation Centre at WMG

Energy Innovation Centre opens at Warwick University

A new £50 million Energy Innovation Centre, the largest of its kind in Europe, has opened at Warwick University.

The new Energy Innovation Centre is part of the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) portfolio, one of seven R&D centres on the University of Warwick campus, and a key part of the WMG centre High Value Manufacturing Catapult activity.

The Energy Innovation Centre will focus on innovation for the development of new battery chemistries, providing guidance and technical know-how in three key areas: energy storage; energy management; and complex electrical systems.

The Centre includes a £13m battery materials scale-up pilot line for the development of new battery chemistries from concept to fully proven traction batteries, available in sufficient quantities for industrial scale testing. The Centre also includes a battery characterisation laboratory, aggressive testing chambers and an electric/hybrid drives test facility.

WMG is the largest manufacturing group in the world with 700 staff and an annual programme of £180 million.

A perfectly still laboratory in space

The LISA Pathfinder (LISA) spacecraft has started its mission to test the technology needed to develop future space-borne gravitational wave detectors.

Following a formal review of the commissioning period on 7 March, the mission was formally handed over from the ESA project and industrial teams that built it to the scientists who are now busy carrying out experiments on this unique gravity laboratory in space.

“The mission is working exceptionally well, and with every measurement performed on the two freefalling cubes, we are gaining the confidence needed to eventually build the first gravitational wave observatory in space,” said Oliver Jennrich, LISA Pathfinder deputy mission scientist and L3 study scientist at ESA.

Gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein almost a century ago, were recently detected for the first time. These mysterious ripples in space-time are thought to be caused by massive celestial events such as neutron stars, black holes or supernovae collisions.

Data from future technologies will provide clues about the build-up of structures across the Universe, and especially at early times in cosmic history, when the very first stars and galaxies were taking shape.

The UK’s involvement in LISA Pathfinder’s technology demonstration payload and the operational phase of the mission is funded by the UK Space Agency and was formerly funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Airbus Defence and Space is the prime contractor for the mission, having built the spacecraft, as well as being the LISA Test Package (LTP) architect, on behalf of ESA and the participating Member States.

SciSys UK Ltd developed the satellite’s on-board software and UK scientists from the University of Birmingham, the University of Glasgow and Imperial College London designed and built elements of the innovative and complex LTP. STFC RAL Space was involved in several technology development projects in the early stages of the mission in 2001.

Read more about LISA Pathfinder

Dstl funds graphene research at the University of Surrey

The University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) is conducting work with graphene-based materials, using funding from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) as part of its Defence and Security PhD Programme.

Dstl is keen to promote the development of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects within universities and build relationships with centres of excellence in academia. It therefore funds a number of PhDs in subjects which might provide future defence capabilities.

In this instance, it has funded University of Surrey PhD student Chris Smith to look at how graphene can be manipulated, perhaps providing more flexible and longer lifetime plastic solar cells or light emitting materials.

Prof. Ravi Silva, director of the Advanced Technology Institute commented: "The nano-carbon heritage of the group, of which this work is a part, includes diamond like carbon hard disc coatings, VANTA Black and de-coupled graphene layers which are all part of the rich diversity of nano-materials in the ATI."

Chris’s work has also uncovered some potential civilian applications. One is a revolutionary way to mop up after oil spills, which can be catastrophic to ecosystems and have a lasting impact on public health and the local economy.

Traditionally, oil spill recovery involves physically skimming the oil from the surface of the water, and then using often toxic detergents to disperse what remains. However, researchers from the University have discovered how a new magnetic carbon based sponge could help.

Chris said: “The carbon sponges, which are cheaply synthesised from a material known as graphene oxide, utilise minute iron nanoparticles to make the sponges magnetic and use a mechanism similar to a water filter absorbing pollutants, such as petrol, while allowing water to pass through unhindered. This allows the pollutant filled sponge to be removed from water using an everyday magnet.

Williams team up with Innovate UK to drive innovation

Innovate UK and the Formula One business Williams have joined forces to promote cross-industry collaboration as a means to accelerate innovation and increase economic growth.

Representatives from corporations, small businesses, start-ups and investors gathered at the Williams headquarters in Wantage, Oxfordshire recently.

Among the speakers were Kevin Baughan, director of technology and innovation at Innovate UK, and Craig Wilson, managing director of Williams Advanced Engineering.

Baughan said: “We are really interested in the high-impact innovation that comes when sectors and disciplines collide. When you have industry coming together in new partnerships, they can take on the global markets of the future and transform economies.”

Williams recently set up a new division, Technology Ventures, that focuses on transferring its Formula One technologies to other sectors.

Among the issues discussed were the future of the car and urban transportation, disruptive innovation in the energy sector, and raising private finance to support innovation.

A number of small businesses exhibited at the event including Innovate UK-supported Mujo Mechanics Ltd, Oxehealth and Bindatex.

Cambridge Epigenetix closes £21 million finance deal

A pioneer in the development of epigenetic sequencing technologies, Cambridge Epigenetix, has closed on a $21 million financing packing and announced the appointment of Dr. Geoff Smith as the new CEO.

The funding round was led by GV (formerly Google Ventures), with significant participation from Sequoia Capital. Existing investors New Science Ventures, Syncona Partners and Cambridge University also joined the funding round.

New CEO Dr. Geoff Smith joins CEGX from Illumina, where he served most recently as site lead and VP of product development. Commenting on the deal, Smith said: “CEGX is today ideally positioned to catalyse the market for epigenetics – just as Solexa and Illumina did for genomics a decade ago – and I am thrilled to have joined at such a transformational time for the company and in driving the next generation of epigenetics products”

GV’s Tom Hulme said: "We’ve seen how the commercialisation of genome sequencing has created incredible opportunities to improve human health, and now the epigenome holds similar potential. Cambridge Epigenetix is one of the few teams on the planet with the skills and experience to break new ground here, and we look forward to supporting them on that journey.”

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