Cranfield University has launched the green technologies (greentech) Grand Challenge to accelerate the development and implementation of environmentally benign technologies across a wide range of sectors: from manufacturing, materials, transport, to aerospace, energy, water services, and waste management.

To achieve the Government’s Net Zero 2050 targets and many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), rapid transitions based on a fine-grained understanding of the consequences of introducing more sustainable alternative methods and technologies are needed. Relevant SDG goals where Greentech plays a significant role include those relating to increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, adopting clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, improving air quality, and improving municipal and industrial waste management.

Although, with investment, the world could move to 100% renewable energy sources relatively quickly, a rapid transition would result in lack of capacity and intermittent, more expensive energy supply. The same challenge applies to other sectors seeking to radically improve the sustainability of their operations such as aerospace, transport, and manufacturing. In other words, there needs to be a managed and responsible transition - making use of well understood technologies whilst other sustainable solutions which require structural adjustments are developed to a fully workable stage. The promise of Greentech can only be realised if the wider system level implications are fully considered; for example, the carbon footprint and logistics chain implications of new materials use or the impact of water recycling schemes on existing infrastructure operation.

The COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 has impacted us all and the ramifications for the various parts of society and the economy are still to be fully understood and quantified. Nevertheless, this offers an opportunity to think differently about promoting sustainable growth and clean development through stimulation and investment in specific sectors. The call for a 'green recovery', together with pressures to mitigate climate change, adopt circular economy principles and achieve Net Zero targets, provides incentive for the rapid development of Greentech solutions. A recent report commissioned by WWF and produced by Vivid Economics stated that “the UK can unlock up to £90b in annual benefits by spurring a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic by focusing on the Net Zero transition”, going on to highlight sectors such as the built environment, electric vehicles (EVs), power generation, green buildings, manufacturing of low carbon goods, and development of better green areas, as areas with high potential to create new jobs and revenues. The UK Government has pledged over £500m new investment in green technologies for a cleaner and healthier future.

Academics at Cranfield are working on a range of projects, in partnership with industry, to deliver sustainable and ground-breaking green technologies to achieve the following objectives:

Create a future with lower greenhouse emissions, mitigating climate change

Produce and store renewable energy

Deliver smart and low carbon ground and air transport

Deliver sustainable manufacturing

Develop circular products

Improve air quality

Allow for waste and pollution management through sustainable processes and recycling

Deliver nature-based solutions and promote water conservation

Enable carbon valorisation and nutrient recovery from wastewater, sludge and urine

Deliver water and sanitation

The projects and activities that span around the green technologies Grand Challenge is enabled and supported by academics dedicated to assessing different aspects of sustainable technological, organisational and social innovation: