The launch of the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC), a major UK research programme established with an investment of £125 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), marks the government’s commitment to investment in infrastructure research that will support the nation’s changing needs and grow the economy.

Government support for UKCRIC was first announced in the 2015 Budget and, in total, more than £216.6 million is being invested in associated new facilities by EPSRC and partner organisations.

The formal launch of UKCRIC takes place on September 11, at the International Symposium for Next Generation Infrastructure 2017 (ISNGI), held at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), London. UKCRIC is a co-sponsor of ISNGI 2017, the fifth in a series of symposia and, to mark the launch, UKCRIC researchers will feature throughout the programme to offer an overview of the current research projects and plans for the future.

UKCRIC is central to the UK’s infrastructure and cities research agenda but its collaborative aims and objectives – to understand how to make the system of systems that constitutes the nation’s infrastructure more resilient to extreme events and more adaptable to changing circumstances, while providing services that are more affordable, accessible and usable to the whole population – have international reach.

Transforming cities and their infrastructure through smarter information will establish the UK at the forefront of this growing sector that offers industry considerable commercial opportunity to establish international markets.

UKCRIC vision

The vision of UKCRIC is to provide leadership and support for the development and growth of a coordinated and coherent, world class, UK-based national infrastructure research community, which engages government, city and commercial policy makers, investors, citizens and academia in a joint venture that drives innovation and value creation in the exploitation of services provided by national infrastructure.

State-of-the-art new facilities to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure will be created at 11 universities as part of the programme. UKCRIC will initially be established at 14 universities to conduct world-leading research through a network of experimental facilities and urban laboratories.

Professor Brian Collins, Professor of Engineering Policy at UCL and convenor of the initial UKCRIC partners who represent the UK’s major university-based infrastructure, civil and construction engineering research groups in the UK, said: “Understanding how to invest in, build, operate and maintain resilient and adaptable high-quality infrastructure based services, such as good public health, safe mobility, heating, lighting and sustainable economic activity, is vital to the wellbeing of citizens in the UK and across the world.

“UKCRIC will provide the science, engineering and research base for delivering that understanding in a low carbon context in UK industry and government, and for international partners.” Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: “Today’s launch of the UCRIC is an important step in the UK’s approach to infrastructure planning, construction and use. Research is vital to ensuring we develop and adopt systems that will be resilient and adaptable to change, and will make the UK a fully connected nation.”

UKCRIC partners and facilities

Initial partners in UKCRIC represent 14 of the major university-based infrastructure, civil and construction engineering research groups in the UK.

The UKCRIC research facilities comprise a co-ordinated set of interlinked National Laboratories, a National Observatory of networked urban laboratories and a Multi-level Modelling and Simulation environment, which are geographically spread throughout the UK. This involves three stages:

  • A set of interlinked National Laboratories for research on the basic science, technology and engineering that underpins the economic infrastructure sectors and delivers innovative solutions meeting international, national and city needs
  • A National Observatory of networked urban laboratories for rapid trialling of solutions at scale and gathering/curating large volumes of diverse data about current and proposed infrastructure so as to allow policies, regulation, systems and capital investments to be made on the basis of evidence, analysis and innovation
  • A Multi-level Modelling and Simulation environment to enable ‘what if’ experiments to be carried out in a high-performance computing environment on possible large scale solutions at national, regional and city level; this will allow the de-risking of proposed large scale investments, give insights into possible futures and highlight new mechanisms for value capture and benefit realisation.

Urban observatories are already up and running having benefited from substantial inward investment, and have established local authority and stakeholder partnerships and offer ready pathways for delivering impact. The National Laboratories are under various stages of funding and development.

UKCRIC National Laboratories - Cranfield's involvement

Urban Water Infrastructure Facility; Cranfield, Newcastle, Sheffield: The UKCRIC Urban Water Innovation & Test Facilities at Cranfield, Sheffield, and Newcastle will provide capabilities to advance our understanding of long term performance and serviceability of water infrastructure; test the effectiveness of active and passive technologies for managing flood water in urban areas; deliver cheaper and more environmentally benign approaches to water treatment; enable full-scale testing of new technologies for treatment, distribution and collection networks and flood management; and pilot smart water management systems. Investment in a suite of complementary water infrastructure research facilities across three of the UK’s leading water research groups will provide an internationally leading capacity.

Challenge and opportunity

National and local infrastructure (transport, water, waste, energy, ICT systems) in the UK needs to be fit for purpose for supporting societal development in a changing world. Research across a wide range of UK Universities drawing on all the expertise, creativity and resources is essential to successfully address this nationally critical issue. UKCRIC will:

  • Generate new knowledge, technologies and digital solutions that reduce the risk of, and add value to, the very large investments in infrastructure that will have to be made over the next 50 years
  • Develop innovative solutions, including digital solutions, to infrastructure problems that reduce the cost of ownership of infrastructure and enhance the value of derived services
  • Radically improve the resilience of infrastructure systems and services against extreme events
  • Grow and maintain the capacity and capability of infrastructure professionals so as to enhance domestic and global commercial market opportunities.

With inadequate infrastructure estimated to cost the UK £2 million a day, UKCRIC will allow academia, industry, government and end users to collaborate to upgrade infrastructure and reduce its cost to the nation. UKCRIC will lead to the development of new materials, techniques and novel technologies, as well as research into issues such as investment in rail systems, roads and flood and water management. It will also facilitate the introduction of smart sensors and systems to generate data to optimise the use of assets and networks, while computation and big data infrastructure will be established for the modelling, simulation and visualisation of cities and infrastructure.