In brief



Jaguar Land Rover, JCB and Babcock’s Liquid Gas Equipment (LGE) business have been announced as finalists for the 2020 MacRobert Award, representing world firsts in UK engineering that are contributing to a low-carbon revolution in motoring, construction and shipping.

Macrobert finalists

The innovative fully electric digger, 19C-1E, developed by JCB, a computer rendering of Babcock’s ecoSMRT® system for transporting liquified natural gas and Jaguar Land Rover’s I-PACE – the world’s first battery-electric sports utility vehicle © JCB, Babcock’s Liquid Gas Equipment and Jaguar Land Rover

As the most prestigious prize for UK engineering innovation, the MacRobert Award shortlist recognises engineering innovations developed in the UK that deliver tangible social benefits through significantly reduced environmental impact. These finalists are all British teams that are reducing vehicle emissions, from construction and shipping to family cars.

Based in Fife, Scotland, Babcock’s LGE business developed ecoSMRT®, which has dramatically improved the efficiency of transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). Ships carrying LNG must control the pressure of their LNG cargo, as evaporation occurs in the tanks. The ecoSMRT® system captures and reliquefies this ‘boil-off’ gas, with significant reductions in emissions compared with current technology. It delivers up to a 50% reduction in carbon footprint, a 50% reduction in maintenance costs, 40% reduction in the physical space required, and improves power efficiency by up to 20% when compared with existing systems. Each ecoSMRT® reliquefaction system in service on an LNG ship will save the equivalent of up to 19,000 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted per year. 

Jaguar Land Rover has been nominated for I-PACE, the world’s first battery-electric sports utility vehicle (SUV). Jaguar Land Rover is one of the first major vehicle manufacturers to transition to electric vehicles. Its design, engineering and technical specifications mean that the I-PACE has a range of up to 292 miles. Its core innovations include novel approaches to battery, thermal management and e-motor technology. The I-PACE was granted 40 significant patents for its innovative technology overall.

JCB has developed and manufactured the world’s first volume-produced fully electric digger (19C-1E), with zero exhaust emissions, improved productivity, noise and vibration characteristics, and emission-free for use inside buildings. Rapid urbanisation is happening across the globe, but this is negatively impacting air quality and global warming initiatives. The JCB 19C-1E is the only volume-produced, battery-powered excavator on the market. To date, the current fleet has saved the equivalent of 15,100 kilograms in CO2 emissions across 5,616 hours of work.

The winner will be announced in July. The winning team will receive the MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize. The MacRobert Award is run by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Since 1969, it has recognised engineering achievements that demonstrate outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success.


The Royal Academy of Engineering has launched an online events programme so that audiences can continue to learn about engineering innovation, ranging from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic to space technologies.

Online events have already included a collaboration with Edinburgh Science Festival to bring it online, which featured a talk from Dr Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng FRS titled Energising engineering: half a century of British innovation. The annual Royal Academy of Engineering/Royal Society of Edinburgh joint lecture also took place virtually, on the topic of bringing space down to Earth, where a panel of experts discussed how space technology is used and Scotland’s role in developing the space technologies of the future.

The Academy is also hosting an online Q&A series, Innovation in a crisis, to explore the different ways that the engineering profession is contributing to the COVID-19 response. So far, the series has explored the engineering behind the Nightingale hospitals and the VentilatorChallengeUK. 

Visit for upcoming event information. 


Two young students have won the Big Bang Competition’s young scientist and young engineer of the year awards. 

Chris and Diya

Chris Kalogroulis (left) and Diya Vincent with their winning designs

Diya Vincent, a Year 7 student from Sevenoaks School in Kent, was named the GSK UK Young Scientist of the Year title for her project titled ‘Microgreens from Goldfish’, which grew microgreens using fertilised water from an aquarium and then compared them using three different methods.

Chris Kalogroulis, aged 18, won the GSK UK Young Engineer of the Year award for his project, Flip. He created a sustainable and minimalist mechanical clock, which he wanted to have aesthetic appeal as well as allowing him to learn and apply mechanics, electronics and programming. Chris is currently in his first year at Imperial College London studying design engineering. 

The Big Bang Competition recognises and rewards young people’s achievements in all areas of STEM, while providing them with the opportunity to build their skills and confidence in project-based work. The competition is open to all UK residents in full-time education or training.


sustainable living places map

The map that was created from the findings of the Developing a systemic perspective for sustainable living places report

In early June, the National Engineering Policy Centre launched its sustainable living places report, Developing a systemic perspective for sustainable living places. 

The report focuses on applying systems thinking to housing in the UK and the wider system in which it is situated, applying an approach that is appropriate for tackling complex policy issues that have a social-technical dimension. The systems methodology and approach led to a map, findings that show where activities in one part of the system may influence other parts of the system, and an illustration that brings these themes to life. The findings raise issues specific to the planning of housing, place and infrastructure, and discuss the strengths and challenges of applying this systems approach. 

The report’s findings are aimed primarily at the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which commissioned this piece of work. It will also appeal to an audience interested in testing applications of systems approaches connected to the delivery of places. Other audiences of interest include policymakers in government working on housing, professional engineering institutions and infrastructure stakeholders interested in exploring an application of a systems approach.

The National Engineering Policy Centre is an ambitious partnership, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, between 43 different UK engineering organisations representing 450,000 engineers.


The Royal Academy of Engineering has launched a competition encouraging students to show off their creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills by taking part in STEM activities at home. 

Engineers in the Making sets a new challenge every two weeks, asking students to send in photos or a short video along with one or two sentences to explain their innovation. Previous challenges have included building a vertical farm at home and making pop rockets. The best entries can choose from a selection of prizes including a power and play K’Nex set or a robot to build and programme. The competition is open to school children aged 7 to 14, across the UK. To enter the competition, visit

The competition is part of the Academy’s STEM at home response to the closure of schools across the UK. It has given parents and teachers access to several easy and fun education resources to help children learn at home. 

The STEM resources support children’s home learning through practical, hands-on activities that encourage tinkering, investigation, problem finding, and solving real-life engineering challenges. All activities use items found in the home, such as a torch, scissors, glue, cornflour, paper, cardboard, and other recycled material, and have simple-to-follow instructions. 

The activities allow students to get stuck in, make mistakes, ask questions, build, design, experiment, and have fun. To access the resources below, as well as many more, please visit

Great Exhibition at Home
This resource is inspired by the original Great Exhibition of 1851 and asks young people to explore how engineers can help protect the planet. Weekly activities, digital resources and a video challenge for participants build up to a final video challenge that asks students to create and share a ‘Great Exhibition’, wherever their classroom may be. Highlights so far have included compost-powered energy, a magnetic-fuelled wind turbine and a cushion for cars to stop killing the endangered Florida panther, which is the largest human cause of the species’ death.

Power up!
This resource is focused on energy and engineering careers in that area. Power up! looks at the importance of electricity, how it is generated and global electricity consumption, and investigates different forms of energy and types of renewable energy sources through hands-on practical activities. This includes: creating a circuit to investigate energy transfers using different objects that can be found around the house; designing and building a Rube Goldberg machine; and building a mini wind turbine using recycled material.

Are we connected?
This resource explores engineering through the technology we communicate and connect with. Enquiring and practical activities teach about the electromagnetic spectrum; ‘find your friends’ on a map of the UK and Ireland using trilateration; consider the ethics around artificially intelligent technology; use algorithms to build shapes using tangrams; program a virtual Sphero ball; and use code-breaking skills to decrypt text.

Light saver
This resource investigates how properties of light have been used to develop a new light-based technique to help diagnose and monitor the health of babies’ brains. It looks at the visible light spectrum, nanometres, behaviour of light, and health monitoring. Students can use an interactive tool to compare light waves and investigate how light behaves, interacts with our bodies and is used in medical engineering through several experiments that just need a torch, water, food colouring, and gummy bears.



City Road fan

The two-metre wide fan at the unused City Road station sucks up hot air via a ventilation shaft and can be reversed during the summer to provide cool air to the Underground © Transport for London

In a world first, hot air extracted from London Underground’s Northern line is being used to generate warm water to heat homes, a school and two local leisure centres in Islington. Opened in March 2020, Bunhill 2 Energy Centre, a project led by Islington Council, is helping reduce residents’ energy bills, cutting carbon emissions and providing electricity for neighbouring amenities.

Heat from below

District heating networks are being increasingly used to deliver cost-effective low-carbon heat, using any heat source of sufficient temperature to provide heating. There are many urban infrastructures that could supply waste heat including sewage works, electric substations, data centres, and rail tunnels. 
The location for this district heating network is the abandoned City Road Tube station – between Old Street and Angel. Derelict since 1922, its old lift shaft has been used as a ventilation shaft for decades. Now, a two-metre wide reversible fan extracts Tube tunnel air up the six-storey vertical passage, over a set of coils to heat pumps that convert the waste heat into hot water for 1,350 homes.

Bunhill 2 operating system

Schematics showing Bunhill 2’s operating system. At Bunhill 2, the heat pump operates as primary plant to raise temperatures up to 70°C, using two-stage reciprocating compressors (also known as ‘pistons’) to achieve an annual coefficient of performance (COP) – or heat pump efficiency – of 3.5 (indicating the generation of 3.5 kilowatts of low-carbon heat for every 1 kilowatt of electrical energy consumed) © Ramboll

Train braking friction between rails and wheels, as well as passenger warmth, cause the Underground to become warm. The London Clay soil that surrounds most of London’s Tube tunnel walls acts as an insulator, resulting in air temperatures in this shaft reaching a minimum of 18°C in the winter and a maximum of 28°C in the summer. 

Ramboll, the client engineer commissioned by Islington Council to develop the design of Bunhill 2, has helped create an energy centre that draws the underground air to a heat-exchange system positioned at ground level, 23 metres above the Tube. The air passes over a coil unit of water-filled pipes heating them by around 5°C. The water temperature is then increased further using a two-stage process.

A heat pump, powered by electricity generated from two gas-powered CHPs (combined heat and power engines), raises the water heat. Then the thermal output from the CHPs heats the water further until it reaches 80°C when it is ready for distribution. A pair of parallel insulated pipes in a closed-loop communal heating system carry the water underneath the streets to and from the destinations – hot one way, cool to return. 
Islington’s Bunhill Heat and Power Network consists of Bunhill 1, launched in 2012, and Bunhill 2. The two power centres are fully integrated and operate in parallel to generate and inject heat into a single shared network. 

Bunhill 1 is powered by a single two-megawatt CHP engine and is paired with a 115-cubic-metre thermal storage tank that supplies heat to nearly 800 homes. Bunhill 2’s new pipework adds a further 550 homes and a primary school and enlarges the potential capacity to a combined total of 2,200 homes. Both centres produce surplus electricity, which is sold back to the National Grid.

Net zero

Cullinan studio

Cullinan Studio designed the dark copper-coloured building that houses the Bunhill 2 energy centre. The outside structure encloses the three shipping containers that store the plant and machinery and can be replaced when needed. The façade’s removeable aluminium panels have perforations that increase in size as they go up, to enable greater ventilation for the units at the very top © Islington Council

The £16 million project underlines the council’s commitment to be a net zero carbon borough by 2030. Bunhill 2 has reduced heating bills for council tenants connected to the network by 10% compared to other communal heating systems, which themselves cost around half as much as standalone systems heating individual homes. 
In the UK, heat networks supply around 2% of heating demands. The 2017 London Environment Strategy set a target for the capital of achieving 15% through district heating networks and renewable energy supplies 
by 2030. 

Transport for London intends to follow up its input into Bunhill and has studied 56 ventilation shafts to assess the potential of each for exporting waste heat. Detailed technical feasibility studies have been completed for six selected sites and plans for development will be announced by the end of 2020.

Islington Council is also looking to expand its district heating network capacity by exploiting other waste heat sources. These include an underground electrical substation; a water source heat pump in Regent’s Canal, which runs through the borough; and a local data centre, with a heat pump providing cooling to the centre and heat to the network; and by using boreholes as storage. 

Capturing urban waste heat – heat that would otherwise be lost – on a localised basis is catching on. There are many examples in Denmark, including dozens of supermarkets that are being retrofitted to generate heat from their cooling systems. In Germany, the thermal potential of sump water from open pit lignite mining is being used to supply heat to nearby communities. Meanwhile in Finland, a large data centre has a heat pump that converts its hot air to a heating network supplying 1,500 homes. 

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