Innovation news in brief: Renewable energy; infrastructure; driverless cars; BIM

Anaerobic fungi. Pic courtesy of Peter Allen, The University of California, Santa Barbara

Cow’s digestive system could revolutionise renewable energy

A group of scientists are looking at the way relatively unknown fungi works inside the guts of herbivores, including elephants and cows, in the hope that it holds the key to revolutionising biomass technology.

Prof Michael Theodorou, leader of the Agricultural Centre of Sustainable Energy Systems (ACSES) at Harper Adams University, is among the group of scientists researching the potential benefits of these gut fungi.

He said: “Renewable technologies are looking to use renewable plant biomass resources for chemical and fuel production, making us less reliant on fossil fuel.”

Currently, a genetically modified solution is being used in the biomass process, but this is costly due to needing an expensive pre-treatment so that the plant biomass can be successfully digested. This is then followed by the fermentation of released sugars by yeast to produce products such as bio-ethanol.

Theodorou added: “The objective of our work was to find an alternative, more straight-forward platform, mimicking the conversion of plant biomass to useful products in nature. In our work so far we have identified hundreds of enzymes from the gut fungi which have commercial biotechnology potential.”

Innovation infrastructure “critical to UK productivity” says Innovate UK chief

A successful innovation infrastructure is critical to the productivity of the UK’s businesses, the head of the UK’s innovation agency has said.

Dr Ruth McKernan, chief executive of Innovate UK, said businesses did not need to be high-tech themselves to benefit from innovation – the value was in bringing companies across the whole supply chain together, from large manufacturing companies to SMEs.

McKernan was speaking ahead of her keynote speech at the Innovation Supply Chain Conference, at the North East Technology Park in Sedgefield, County Durham, next month.

To find out more about the conference, visit

Fast track funding for Zika research

The government has announced a ‘rapid response’ call for research applications aimed at tackling the risk posed by the Zika virus.

Initially, up to £1 million from the government’s Global Challenges Research Fund will be made available through the UK Medical Research Council to researchers applying for grants to investigate the nature of the virus, its transmission and the potential links to neurological conditions including microcephaly.

Science minister Jo Johnson, said: “The spread of the Zika virus to a growing number of countries in Central and South America has now been recognised as a global emergency by the World Health Organization.

“Zika needs to be fought on a number of fronts, and the UK’s world-class scientists have an important role to play. Thanks to the government’s decision to protect the science budget and establish a new Global Challenges Research Fund, UK scientists can immediately start tackling this problem.”

Possible avenues of research include:

  • Epidemiological characteristics, eg vector transmission potential, geographical spread, interactions with other arboviruses, changing viral genotype, host susceptibility, incubation period
  • Development of more specific rapid diagnostic tests for Zika virus that can reduce misdiagnosis that may occur due to the presence of dengue or other viruses in a test sample
  • Viral pathogenicity, association with and potential mechanistic links to neurodevelopment / microcephaly
  • Mechanisms of infection and host immune responses and potential therapeutics / vaccines

More details regarding the initiative and how to apply here.

Driverless cars technology receives £20 million boost

Eight projects have been awarded £20 million of government funding to develop the next generation of autonomous vehicles.

The projects are the first to be funded from the government’s £100 million Intelligent Mobility Fund and range from developing autonomous shuttles to carry visually-impaired passengers using advanced sensors and control systems, to new simulation trials for autonomous pods to increase uptake and improve real-world trials.

Trials to test driverless cars on the streets are currently being worked on in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes, and Greenwich. Autonomous vehicles are also being used in Heathrow to shuttle passengers, although these are currently on designated tracks.

Business secretary Sajid Javid said: “Our cars of the future will be equipped with the technologies that will make getting from A to B safer, faster, and cleaner. They will alert drivers of accidents ahead and be able to receive information from their surroundings about hazards, increasing the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians."

Capgemini Consulting buys Fahrenheit 212

Capgemini Consulting has acquired innovation process development company Fahrenheit 212, reports

Capgemini will bolt-on the acquisition to augment its digital innovation capabilities in the US and UK, while for Fahrenheit 212, the deal will provide access to an international network of clients and operations.

Fahrenheit 212 supports companies through the innovation process, leveraging their expertise in innovation to drive sustainable, profitable growth. Its capabilities spans strategy, idea development, research, branding and design. The company lists Adidas, American Express, Coca-Cola and Samsung among its clients.

University of Huddersfield to develop BIM technology for Chinese construction company

The University of Huddersfield is to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with one of the world’s largest construction firms, Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG).

The MoU is to help develop BCEG’s use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) – a cutting-edge approach that involves the use of digital technology during the design and construction process, leading to huge gains in efficiency.

The MoU has been drawn up between BCEG’s UK division and the University’s School of Art, Design and Architecture, where staff and students have developed expertise in BIM.

“BIM improves collaboration at the design stage, reduces changes during construction and also improves facility management at the operational stage,” said Song Wu, Prof of Surveying and IT at the University.

Wu has been instrumental in securing the five-year MoU with BCEG, and the key objectives are to develop the construction giant’s expertise in lean construction, healthcare infrastructure and capacity in BIM.

BCEG is part of a consortium investing £800m in the Manchester Airport City project.