Back from the future

RESEARCHERS at four universities have joined forces on a low carbon engineering project that they believe could transform the way cities are built.
Led by Professor Chris Rogers of Birmingham University’s school of engineering, the study will develop visions of an alternative urban future with drastically reduced CO2 emissions then develop “realistic and radical engineering solutions” to achieve them in a socially acceptable way. Research will closely link people’s social aspirations and well-being with the engineering of cities in line with the UK Government’s commitment to meet its 2050 climate change target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels.
Rogers said: “Engineering of our cities has traditionally been a ‘top-down’ exercise, mainly because it’s so very difficult to create a ‘bottom-up’ approach. Solutions are created and society must either learn to work and live with them or choose to resist them.”
The research is unusual in that it will start by imagining the future of our cities; for example what does Lancaster look like after an 80% carbon reduction? The team will then work backwards to find out which combinations of engineering, behavioural changes and technological developments are needed to make those alternative futures possible, while at the same time ensuring that the planet can still provide the resources required.
“The ambition of our research programme is necessary to deal with the global challenges that we face,” said Rogers.
His research experience includes a project to create a prototype multi-sensor device to detect and map pipes that lie beneath city streets without the need for excavation.
The study is backed by a £6m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Such funding is made available to world-leading research teams aiming to tackle major research challenges.
Lancaster University, University College London and the University of Southampton are also involved in the five-year multi-discipline team.
Commercial partners include power and gas company E-ON, global engineering consultancy Halcrow, international engineering and construction company Costain, and the UK’s rail operator Network Rail.