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Bridging the green innovation gap

Enabling the use of new technologies in everyday life can be a laborious process - so much so that the gap between research and the marketplace has been dubbed the ‘valley of death’. But new Government funding aims to change all that. Through Innovate UK, £50 million has been announced to bridge this daunting valley.

The intention is to end the frustrations of scientists trying to push good technologies out of the lab, while assisting forward-thinking industry in offering the infrastructure and expertise to make the theoretical practical. Interestingly, an added £17million has been earmarked for creating new industrial PHD places - putting the power with expert individuals to bridge the gap between academia and business.

But what does this mean for green innovation? Well, potentially quite a lot. Among the technologies listed as key areas of R&D that the new cash will go towards are energy efficient computing, energy harvesting and graphene (pure carbon). A concerted effort in graphene research alone could bring significant results. The form of carbon graphite, only recently discovered, has been hailed as little short of a green ‘super substance’. It is the thinnest known substance, and the best conductor of electricity. Its main chemical quality is that it allows positively-charged Hydrogen atoms through but no other gases. Professor Sir Andrei Geim of Manchester University explains why that could mean so much:

"In the atmosphere there is a certain amount of hydrogen and this hydrogen will end up on the other side [of graphene] in a reservoir. Then you can use this hydrogen-collected reservoir to burn it in the same fuel cell and make electricity.”

Various potential applications of graphene have been cited, from hyper-efficient fuel cells to wearable electricity-generating technology. Pressing climate targets and the need for increased energy security in an ever-changing geopolitical environment means the of hastening low carbon technologies into public life is required. And financial support to help this happen can never be a bad thing - although due caution must be maintained to ensure that only the most beneficial innovations make it into our homes and businesses.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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