Oxford launches new multi-disciplinary ZERO Institute

23 March 2022

The University of Oxford today announces the launch of the multi-disciplinary ZERO Institute (Zero-carbon Energy Research Oxford) to tackle the challenges of an equitable, secure global zero-carbon energy transition. Bringing together leading academics from a range of disciplines, the Institute will address the questions surrounding zero-carbon energy systems and their implementation.

The transition from carbon-based energy to zero-carbon energy will play the crucial role in achieving the Paris Agreement’s global warming limits. Currently, more than 70% of the greenhouse gases responsible for a changing climate come from converting and using energy.

Professor Patrick Grant, Oxford Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), says, ‘International and national assessments agree that practical solutions to the climate crisis will involve increased use of renewable energy sources, storing the energy effectively, and using it efficiently. Only by doing this can we supply everyone in the world with the energy services needed to live well and to stop climate change. The university is rising to the challenge of zero-carbon energy systems by investing in the ZERO Institute to help coordinate and increase the reach of our ever growing zero-carbon energy research.’

ZERO will build on the University’s extensive energy research activities, which span more than 20 departments and 200 researchers. It aims to establish Oxford as a centre of research excellence and thought leadership on a global and equitable zero-carbon transition and has secured a £3.25m investment from the University’s Strategic Research Fund (SRF).

The goal of ZERO is to accelerate the transition to a just zero-carbon energy system. Achieving this requires systems thinking as well as the development and adoption of new technologies and infrastructure. In addition, innovation will be required in business models, institutions, policy and society.

Launch co-heads of the Institute are Professors Nick Eyre and Malcolm McCulloch.

Professor Malcolm McCulloch, Department of Engineering Science, says, ‘This challenge requires a major transformation in global energy conversion and use, requiring systemic change in the energy sector, transport and buildings, and therefore in technology and society. In complexity and reach, the zero-carbon transition will be a change of the same magnitude as the Industrial Revolution.’

Professor Nick Eyre, Environmental Change Institute, says, ‘The history of energy system change shows it is closely associated with social change, and the timeframe for the zero-carbon transition closely matches that for delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The zero-carbon transition will therefore need to ensure delivery of basic energy services globally, and radical changes in energy using practices worldwide. This implies major challenges for governance, in particular related to equity, which are closely linked to the technical challenges. Research, therefore, needs to be inter-disciplinary and take a whole system approach.’

Many of the potential components of a zero-carbon energy system (such as demand reduction, renewable energy conversion, energy storage and nuclear power) have been researched over many decades. However, the concept of a zero-carbon system (without fossil fuels) has only really gained traction with policymakers since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Academic leadership will include Associate Professor Robert Weatherup from the Department of Materials, Associate Professor Radhika Khosla from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment and the Convenor for Oxford Energy Robin Morris.

Notes to editors

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact the University of Oxford press office at news.office@admin.ox.ac.uk or on +44 (0)1865 280528



ZERO Institute leadership team
Nick Eyre is Professor of Energy and Climate Policy, and Senior Research Fellow in Energy, at the Environmental Change Institute. He is Director of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, which is UKRI’s main investment into research on energy use.
Malcolm McCulloch is Associate Professor in Engineering Science and leads the Energy and Power Group at the University of Oxford. His interest and expertise spans developed and developing countries, and ranges across all aspects of power generation and distribution.

Department of Engineering Science
The Department of Engineering Science, founded in 1908, is the only unified department in the UK which offers accredited courses in all the major branches of engineering, each year producing around 170 new engineering graduates. We were ranked 2nd for Engineering in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021. We also have over 650 Postgraduate students, either MSc or DPhil, and our 130 academics have a substantial research portfolio in all the major branches of engineering and in emerging areas such as information engineering, biomedical engineering, energy and the environment. Much of our research is directly supported by industry and in the past 50 years over 50 start-up companies have originated from our research. www.eng.ox.ac.uk

Department of Materials
Founded in 1956, the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford is a world leader in theory and computational modelling of materials, microstructural and nanoscale characterisation of materials, materials processing and engineering applications. According to the UK’s Research Excellence Framework 2014 assessment, 98% of the department’s research was in the highest categories of excellence (60% in the top, 4* “world-leading” category and 38% in the 3* “internationally excellent” category) while for the sub-category of research impact, the department was the highest performing materials department in the UK with 90% of our submission receiving the 4* rating. The Guardian University Guide regularly places the department as the UK’s top materials department.

The department’s research philosophy is that the successful development of advanced materials requires inter-related research that may draw on fundamental understanding in materials modelling and design, characterisation, nanotechnology, engineering and functional properties, and synthesis and manufacturing. Consequently, much of the department’s research involves collaboration between groups with one or more these specialisms and in clusters of researchers with complementary expertise. Larger research clusters in the department include materials for extreme environments (fusion, fission, gas turbines, etc), energy storage materials (batteries and supercapacitors), materials design (functional and structural), materials characterisation (microscopy of all types) and quantum electronic devices.

School of Geography and the Environment
The School of Geography and the Environment (SoGE) is a dynamic, diverse, interdisciplinary academic department at the University of Oxford combining natural and social science interests and skills, underpinned by Geography’s tradition of working across differing cultures. The School is internationally recognized for the quality of its teaching, research and wider engagement across the breadth of human and physical geography and environmental studies. www.geog.ox.ac.uk

University of Oxford
Oxford University has been placed number one in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the sixth year running, and is second in the QS World Rankings 2022. At the heart of this success is our ground-breaking research and innovation.
Oxford is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions.
Through its research commercialisation arm, Oxford University Innovation, Oxford is the highest university patent filer in the UK and is ranked first in the UK for university spinouts, having created more than 200 new companies since 1988. Over a third of these companies have been created in the past three years. The university is a catalyst for prosperity in Oxfordshire and the United Kingdom, contributing £15.7 billion to the UK economy in 2018/19, and supports more than 28,000 full time jobs.