Services for Business

Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability examines the interaction between people and their surroundings.

The challenge is to make use of natural resources whilst safeguarding their availability for future generations. As the world’s population grows, the need to make the best use of the resources we have becomes ever more important.

At the University of Leicester we perform cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research to ease the complex interactions between human activity and our physical environment.

Our interests focus on four areas:

Climate change

Carbon emissions

The activities central to the modern world - food production, transport and energy generation - are the biggest sources of greenhouse gases. Companies in these sectors are facing greater demands to monitor and reduce their impact from customers, stakeholders and regulators.

Reducing carbon emissions is not just the right thing to do; there are significant financial benefits to be gained through using raw materials more efficiently.

By combining our expertise in geography, chemistry, physics and engineering, we tackle these challenges by:

  • Analysing the interactions between water cycles and ecosystems, and the consequences of climate change and changing land use
  • Monitoring traffic emissions, air quality and crop health
  • Improving the performance of power sources and power storage
  • Managing traffic flow to minimise vehicle emissions
  • Developing ways to utilise high voltage direct current

Depleting carbon sinks

With a booming global population placing increasing demands on land for living and growing food, deforestation is increasing at an alarming rate. The loss of carbon sinks such as trees and plants reduces the Earth’s capacity to manage the increasing carbon output, leading to a rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

We are tackling this by monitoring deforestation and land use, increasing the productivity of crops and livestock and finding new ways of trapping CO2.

We work with governments, charities and industry to support them in monitoring and minimising the destruction of carbon sinks, information which can be used to inform government policies or to track illegal deforestation. Our cutting-edge Earth observation technology can detect minute changes to a landscape, bringing attention to areas of concern quickly enough to minimise damage.

Carbon capture

We are exploring the possibilities around carbon capture and storage in natural systems as a tool to help minimise anthopogenic CO2 in the atmosphere. The Crustal Processes Research Group from the Department of Geology is investigating the potential of ultrabasic rocks to sequester large masses of carbon.

Human behaviour

Before we can realise any significant improvements in climate change, we need to influence society’s attitudes, which will in turn drive the demand for manufacturers to be more sustainable.

Our Human Geography Research Group from the Department of Geography investigates how to create sustainable communities and inform local, national and international policy-makers on implementing sustainable living in society.

Resource efficiency

Resource efficiency helps prevent depletion of resources, minimising environmental impact whilst protecting materials security. It also contributes significantly to the low-carbon economy. Current challenges include reducing the cost of offshore renewable energy and storage, managing declining oil and gas supplies and reducing the risks to the environment.

Fossil fuels and mineral extraction

Despite the advances in renewable energy, we are still reliant on fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas. As supplies of fossil fuels decrease, research at the University of Leicester focuses on developing technology to increase their efficiency and help discover and access new reserves. At Leicester, we are investigating the possibilities of extracting fossil fuels from previously inaccessible reserves, such as deep sea extraction.

Our experts in bore-hole research, Earth observation and geocomputing have the equipment and know-how to combine satellite data with geophysical studies. Our academics also assess the risks and characteristics of potential extractions by combining borehole research with seismic and electromagnetic techniques, providing vital data to companies involved in extraction. We also provide training to industry in the latest developments and techniques, and loan equipment through the SEIS-UK programme, hosted at Leicester.

As well as fossil fuels, we specialise in mineral extraction, with research focusing on valuable metals such as copper, gold and platinum.

Mineral deposits, mineralisation and metallogenesis

This strategically-important research investigates occurrences of copper, gold and platinum and the processes that produce various types of deposit. Current research examines specific examples of metal deposits in the UK, Greenland, Australia, Chile, Greece, Africa and the western Pacific. As part of this research, we are leading important developments in 3D X-ray computed tomography techniques in mineralogical analysis.

Our key academic in this research is Dr Gawen Jenkin.

Loan of equipment – SEIS-UK

SEIS-UK is part of the NERC funded Geophysical Equipment Facility (GEF), based in our Geology at Leicester.

SEIS-UK provides field equipment, computers and software for experiments involving onshore recording of both earthquakes and controlled seismic sources. The SEIS-UK team provides expertise and training in the use of field equipment and the associated data management systems.

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Food and drink is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, so predicting the changing demands on production caused by a population that is growing in numbers as well as wealth is vital to our economy. In addition to the extra volume of food required, there are increased demands for higher-quality produce, finite production space and the added challenges of climate and environmental changes leading to less predictable weather patterns.

The key challenges we are tackling include:

  • Increasing crop productivity and sustainability without impairing quality
  • Reducing waste
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

We are leading the way in finding solutions to these challenges. By analysing satellite data, we can detect sources of pollution and assess land cover, helping to maximise crop potential. Our academics in chemistry and geography have provided vital data to businesses by combining gas monitoring and Earth observation.

We also run a number of specialist programmes and research groups to meet the specific needs of industry. Our engineering experts investigate making systems more efficient, which has led to improvements in refrigeration.

Land Use Management: Improving Crop Yield

We have worked with agronomists Field Technique to develop and apply Earth observation solutions to improve the data available to businesses involved in the production, processing and marketing of arable crops. Currently, agriculture management is guided by changes in crop and soil conditions over a large area but not within individual fields. We have shown the potential of remote sensing to identify small-scale changes within single fields, opening up micro-scale management for small producers.

Built environment

Cities are vital to the future of the global economy; at present, 70% of the world’s population live in cities. It is essential that our cities are sustainable, make minimal impact on the environment and offer increased quality of living for residents. Cities should be developed as whole systems, including urban planning, buildings and infrastructure.

Urban planning

Our cities are growing exponentially, but the land we have available is limited. Good planning allows cities to have a low environmental impact and encourages a high quality of life, as well as protecting residents against floods and other natural phenomena.

At the University of Leicester, we use a range of Earth observation techniques to aid urban planning. Our academics specialising in geography, physics and astronomy run projects that translate satellite data into usable information for businesses, monitoring tree coverage, land use and flood risk.

Managing the built environment

Urban areas are characteristically several degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas, a phenomenon known as the 'urban heat island' effect. In addition to the impacts of increased heat on the wellbeing of residents, it also intensifies air pollution, places a strain on water supply and increases energy consumption. Climate change has the potential to affect their frequency and magnitude, making it even more important to develop our understanding of the urban heat island effect.

Accurate thermal infrared data can be gained from satellite instruments, such as Landsat 7’s Enhanced Thematic Mapper, and used to map urban heat islands. The surface temperature information is combined with aerial photography, a transport network map and a land cover map in a computer based Geographical Information System (GIS). The GIS can be used in order to identify major ‘hot spots’ contributing to the urban heat island effect. This detailed thermal information is important for urban planning and management.

Automated tree mapping

Leicester City Council is using tree maps in order to measure the amount of tree canopy to plan healthier, more sustainable urban environments.

Traditional manual extraction of tree maps from aerial imagery is a labour intensive and time consuming process. We worked with local aerial photography company Bluesky to create tree maps using an automated classification scheme.

The procedure involves the use of high resolution aerial photography to provide information on land cover classes and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to provide accurate height data for the measurement of land cover structure. An aerial photograph of the same area is used to extract a greenness index, which is used to separate vegetation from non-vegetated areas. Objects are classified as trees using the elevation data and the greenness index derived from the aerial photograph.

Renewable energy

One of the world’s greatest challenges is sustainable energy production. As fossil fuels are depleted, the search for alternative energy becomes increasingly urgent. Alternative energy sources must be economical and have minimal impact on the environment, so we are investigating wave, tide, wind and solar sources. We need to ensure security, affordability, sustainability and scalability to future demands to create systems for the long-term that are flexible and resilient.

The University of Leicester is involved in a number of industrial collaborations that are leading the way in the search for alternative energy sources. One such example comes from our Condensed Matter Physics Research Group, who are developing thin and transparent photovoltaic film that can be applied to large surface areas, including windows.

High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC)

HVDC systems are being developed to boost voltages for transmission over long distances, ideal for application in offshore wind farms and the European super grid. Our Electrical Power and Power Electronics Research Group specialise in modelling the long term performance of insulating materials, which is critical to the success of HVDC grids.

Our lead academic in this area is Dr Steve Dodd.

Alstom KTP: delivering a solution to the global energy challenge

Alstom, producer of 25% of the world’s electricity supply, worked with the University of Leicester to develop methods of utilising HVDC.

Whilst there are many cables available for AC transmission, HVDC cable has had relatively little research into stresses and failure modes. Alstom approached us as a world-renowned centre of excellence in electrical power and smart grids, to set up a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. The award-winning partnership embedded a highly-qualified graduate in Alstom’s technical centre who modelled the optimal cable and identified a supplier that met Alstom’s requirements. 

Alstom gained a long-term competitive edge, winning business as a result of having optimised their equipment, which increased customer confidence in the reliability and safety of their service.

Energy saving

Dr Paul Lefley from the Electrical Power and Power Electronics Group has been involved in several industry projects to improve energy saving, including:

  • Increasing the storage and energy production in thermoelectric generators (European Thermodynamics Limited)
  • High powered and ultra-fast battery recharging – Improving efficiency of electric motors (Synchropulse)

We have a number of established services for business:

  • RAFT - Real-time Air Fingerprinting Technology that measures trace constituents in air
  • iTRAQ - dynamic traffic management system to optimise the road network

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