How the UK can transition to low carbon transport

Reducing CO2 emissions is high on the industry’s agenda. Rosa Wilkinson shines the spotlight on High Value Manufacturing Catapult’s collaborations to help the UK transition to low carbon transport.

Our environment is changing. Research shows that our world has warmed by about 1°C since the middle of the 19th century and that, at the current rate of warming, thermometers could rise by  1.5 °C before the middle of this century.

We are already seeing the brutal consequences. Extremes of weather, melting icecaps, rising sea levels, flash flooding and vast forest fires carry a huge price for all life – plant, animal and human. Without action to reduce the pace of global warming we will all have a heavy price to pay.

The outlook is daunting, but the battle is not yet lost. Climate science has shown that if we take control of our emission of the most abundant greenhouse gas, CO2, we can slow or even halt the rise in global temperatures. And we are beginning to make progress.

In recent years, the development of low carbon energy sources like renewables and next generation nuclear has seen emissions from energy generation begin to tumble. A sector once so reliant on carbon-emitting fossil fuels no longer heads the league table of UK carbon emissions.

Today, that questionable accolade belongs to our transport sector with its automotive and aerospace sectors increasingly coming under close scrutiny.

The Manufacturer october 2020This article first appeared in the October issue of The Manufacturer.

Click here to subscribe

The good news is that manufacturers in both sectors are already rising to the challenge. They can see that as regulation and consumer expectations change, delivering low carbon mobility solutions will be vital to their long-term future and are beginning to make change happen.

With strong backing from government and organisations like Innovate UK, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult is working with the research base, technology partners, OEMs and firms within the supply chain to make sure the UK is ready to make the transition to low carbon transport.

On the road

HVM Catapult centres are working with firms in the automotive sector and delivering great results. Take the work our WMG Centre is doing with Triumph Motorcycles to develop electric motorcycles.

Driven by consumer demand, Project Triumph TE-1 is geared to delivering what riders want and expect from a Triumph: great handling and performance with true usability as well as significantly reduced environmental impacts.

But the project is aiming higher than satisfying consumer demands alone. Bringing together insight from WMG, Williams Advanced Engineering and Integral Powertrain Ltd, the project will also help to create supply chains and strong, commercially viable partnerships between UK manufacturers.


PROJECT TRIUMPH TE-1 partners


Personal transport isn’t the only sector in need of carbon reduction. Providing efficient movement for broad swathes of the population, our bus network is also key to decarbonising the UK economy.

Working with the Niche Vehicle Network, Arcola Energy and composites manufacturer Permali, our National Composites Centre (NCC) is developing a low-cost composite housing for hydrogen fuel storage tanks on buses, helping the transition to low carbon public transport.

The lightweight composites being used are 25% lighter than metal versions, meaning lower wear and tear on vehicles and roads. The idea is that these structures can be fitted to our existing stock of buses to enable them to be powered by hydrogen rather than fossil fuels. This allows operators to make the switch to greener technologies more affordably and thus faster.

It’s sometimes deep within transport supply chains that the impact of working with the HVM Catapult is seen most clearly. Take PP Control & Automation (PP C&A), specialists in electrical control systems who worked with our WMG Centre’s SME team.

Realising that PP C&A’s in-house expertise and production capacity could be used for electric vehicles (EVs), Tony Hague, Chief Executive of PP C&A, wanted to expand into the growing market (expected to be worth £6bn by 2025). It was a market neither he nor his management team were familiar with, and one often unforgiving for newcomers.


Lee Aston, PPCA Manufacturing Manager at PP Control and Automation, and Simon Garwood, Innovation Manager, WMG SME Group

Lee Aston, Manufacturing Manager at PP Control and Automation, and Simon Garwood, Innovation Manager, WMG SME Group


Experts at WMG helped PP C&A to identify and overcome potential barriers to this expansion and how to adapt their existing operation. Early results saw PP C&A secure new contracts worth over £3m in commercial EVs.

It’s not just a company’s bottom line that is benefitted by working with the HVM Catapult. Another HVM Catapult low carbon mobility project, involving both our Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Coventry-based MTC, looks set to bring more than 200 high value added jobs to the Sheffield City Region.

We’re working with Sheffield-based electric vehicle manufacturer Magtec to scale up the UK-production of its world-leading electric motors using the latest automation technologies. The project is expected to create 65 jobs at Magtec and a further 165 across South Yorkshire and the wider region as the company strengthens its UK supply chain.

In the air

The HVM Catapult is not just helping to transform the emissions of so-called ‘surface transport’, we’re also looking to the skies. While electrification technology will not be mature enough to offer long-haul electric flight for some considerable time, aerospace experts within the team see good opportunities to electrify short range aircraft (which make up around 80% of all flights) more rapidly.

We’re already working on this with the HVM Catapult’s NCC and WMG supporting Electroflight in the development of the ACCEL battery and powertrain, working on characterisation and validation for a high-performance electric aircraft.


HVM Catapult’s NCC and WMG are supporting the Electroflight initiative, working on validation for a high-performance electric aircraft

HVM Catapult’s NCC and WMG are supporting the Electroflight initiative, working on validation for a high-performance electric aircraft


This ACCEL project, led by Rolls-Royce and with electric motor partner YASA, is part-funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and will attempt a world record for the fastest all-electric aircraft later in 2020, looking to hit speeds of over 300mph.

But even before we electrify flight, there’s much  we can do to reduce the emissions associated with conventionally powered flight. Our CPI team is working with the ATI on opportunities and funding  for sustainable aviation fuels and our NCC and others in our network are working to improve aircraft efficiency and reduce the amount of fuel needed to power flight through light-weighting and cut  carbon emissions.

The work they, and colleagues right across the HVM Catapult’s network, are doing is laying the groundwork for a rapid decarbonisation of the transport sector across the globe. The innovators like those that come through our doors are leading the way to a sustainable tomorrow. Together we can take control of our carbon emissions.


*All images courtesy of HVMC