Unlocking Innovation: RailDecarb21

Session 3

Watch Session 3


Low-cost and Novel Electrification Technologies 

Watch Hydrogen Technologies Session


Hydrogen Technologies

Watch Hydrogen Technologies Session


Battery Technologies 

Watch Battery Technologies Session


Jonathan Brown, Global Decarbonisation and Sustainability Lead, Ricardo plc
Dr Abi Hird, Design Innovation Network Lead, Battery Systems, KTN

Event report

Decarbonisation in focus as ‘Unlocking Innovation’ series hits Glasgow

The Railway Industry Association (RIA)’s ‘Unlocking Innovation’ series headed to Glasgow on 13 October for a one-day event – ‘RailDecarb21’ – focused on the decarbonisation. 

Focusing on the challenges and opportunities in the rail decarbonisation story across both embedded and operational carbon, industry thought-leaders presented to an audience at the University of Strathclyde’s Technology and Innovation Centre, as well as virtual viewers who joined remotely. The event was held in advance of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (‘COP26’) when the eyes of the world will be on the Scottish city.

The keynote address was provided by Network Rail’s (NR) Chief Environment & Sustainability Officer Jo Lewington, who spoke on ‘Our Journey to a Zero Carbon & Sustainable Railway’.

Lewington began by outlining the railways’ overarching target of achieving net-zero carbon by 2050 in England and Wales and by 2045 in Scotland. The aim is to make rail the “cleanest, greenest form of mass transit in the UK” and she urged the audience to “get on board”. 

Describing the climate crisis as “an urgent crisis that dwarfs everything else”, she said the industry must “act now to ensure we have a railway for future generations”. 

In September last year NR launched its ‘Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2020-2050’, which focuses on four areas: a low-emission railway; a reliable railway that is resilient to climate change; improved biodiversity of plants and wildlife; and minimal waste and sustainable use of material.

Lewington highlighted some of NR’s commitments to set standards through its supply-chain, such as that 75 per cent of its suppliers (by emissions covering purchased goods and services and capital goods) will have science-based targets by 2025; and that its mantra for replacing assets “will be to replace like with better not to replace like for like”.

She also raised the importance of embedding good social practice by aligning with the Government’s Social Value Model, highlighting an NR ‘Social Value Framework’ focused on four themes: economic prosperity, equal opportunity, wellbeing and Covid-19 recovery. 

Lewington concluded by describing rail as “uniquely positioned to help our nations build back better” from the challenges of the past 18 months. 

Jon Constable, Managing Director for Atmosphere and Clean Energy Solutions at the event’s headline sponsor TP Group, followed Lewington by speaking on the topic of ‘Unlocking the Technology to Net Zero: Can Rail Meet its 2050 Targets?’. The company is providing the hydrogen fuel cell systems that will power the production version of the HydroFLEX – the UK’s first hydrogen train.
Constable described four challenges: digitisation, regulation, training and infrastructure. In respect of regulation, for example, he said that because some initiatives are in emerging fields, regulations are yet to exist. Similarly, in respect of training, new technologies are opening up demand for new skillsets (and retraining opportunities).

Next up was the first of two sets of ‘elevator pitches’ on the topic of ‘Low-Carbon Technologies and Services’. Presentations were given by: Dan Cutting, Business Development Manager at the Driving the Electric Revolution Industrialisation Centre (DER-IC) Scotland; Natalie Cartwright, R&D Market Research for GBR-Rail; and Rupert Stevens, Power Assemblies Group Manager for Lincoln-based Dynex Semiconductor. 

‘Operational Carbon: Reduction and Elimination’ was then discussed by three speakers. 

Lara Young detailed how Costain, where she is Group Climate Change Director, has its own ‘Climate Change Action Plan’, which sets out how company aims to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2035. This focuses on four areas: design; materials; vehicles; and energy usage. 

A perspective from Scotland was provided by Wendi Wheeler, Sustainability Strategy Manager at Scotland's Railway - Network Rail, who outlined targets including the decarbonisation of passenger rail services by 2035 and achieving biodiversity ‘net gain’ by the same year.

“We have built a register of more than 360 different decarbonisation opportunities to pursue – those are being prioritised and quantified, so we can get the quickest wins and best ‘bang for buck’ first,” Wheeler told the audience. 

Ninety-six per cent of Scotland Railway’s total emissions sit within what is known as ‘scope 3’ (value-chain or indirect emissions).

Mike Nugent, Head of EV (Electric Vehicles) at Hitachi Social Innovation, described how Hitachi is building a portfolio of urban mobility and energy solutions, for example rooftop solar photovoltaic systems and EV charging at transport depots. “We are market-making here,” he said. 

We then had the second set of elevator pitches, which were made by Gary Sanford, Rail Manager (Scotland) for groundworks and civil engineering company Scott Parnell; and Dr Will Midgley, Lecturer in Intelligent Mechatronics and Control Systems Engineering at Loughborough University.

Three simultaneous industry briefing sessions on ‘Decarbonising Traction’, sponsored by Arcadis, got the afternoon underway. 

TP Group’s Jon Constable chaired a session on ‘Hydrogen Technologies’ that featured Arcola Energy Strategy Director Richard Kemp-Harper; EnAcumen Chief Executive Kevin Fothergill; and Luke Johnson, Managing Director of H2 Green (a Getech Group company). 

Arcola is converting a former ScotRail Class 314 electric train to hydrogen fuel-cell technology as part of a programme to demonstrate the role hydrogen-powered trains can play in decarbonising Scottish railways by 2035. Kemp-Harper described the broader ambition of “industrialising the technology” and “building up supply-chain capabilities”.

Fothergill focused on economics of ‘green hydrogen’ (“very sensitive” to electricity costs) and Johnson described how H2 is building a hydrogen production network around the UK (21 sites, none yet operational). 

“We think the core requirement is to cut transportation out of the system… transportation of hydrogen is extremely expensive,” Johnson said, adding that the company was communicating a message to government that “hydrogen trains and the hydrogen systems that can feed them [can] become large virtual power-plants.” 

“The national rail system can be part of the [energy] solution,” Johnson told the audience. “That’s something I’d love to hear in the discourse coming out of events like this. What can we do beyond just servicing the decarbonising of what, quite frankly, is not a very significant carbon footprint [rail]. We’re hoping to influence that government discussion and [get recognition] that this is a major lever that can stimulate the ‘hydrogen economy’.”

Parallel breakout sessions were held on the topics of ‘Low-cost and Novel Electrification Technologies’ and ‘Battery Technologies’.

The former session featured Arcadis Technical Director Railway Systems Richard Fluin; Institute of Railway Research (IRR) Huddersfield Principal Research Fellow Dr Pedro Antunes; Furrer+Frey AG Head of UK Projects Noel Dolphin; and Network Rail Environmental Specialist Denzel Collins. 

The batteries-focused session saw Dr Will Midgley chairing a discussion with Ricardo plc Global Decarbonisation and Sustainability Lead Jonathan Brown and Dr Abi Hird, Design Innovation Network Lead for Battery Systems at innovation-focused non-profit organisation KTN. 

RailDecarb21 concluded with a plenary session on ‘Embedded Carbon: Reduction and Elimination’ featuring Jamie Pitcairn, Ricardo Energy & Environment’s Technical Director for Sustainability and Circular Economy; Arcadis Assistant Bridge Engineer Victoria Eggleston; and Edinburgh University Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science Dr Saran Sohi.

Pitcairn presented on the topic of ‘Net Zero and Scope 3 Emissions: How Life-Cycle Assessment Can Help Identify Hotspots in Embedded Emissions’.

“If we’re going to tackle climate change, organisations need to be looking at scopes 1, 2 and 3,” said Pitcairn, saying that 96 per cent of Ricardo’s emissions fall into scope 3. 

Eggleston discussed ‘Embodied Carbon Capture and Reduction’, which she defined as the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are released throughout a production supply-chain to produce a material or product (as differentiated from operational carbon).

Saying that “what gets measured gets improved”, Eggleston advised that “small and continual changes will make the biggest difference”. She also referenced the usefulness of the Inventory of Carbon & Energy (ICE) database. 

Rounding off the day, Dr Sohi spoke as a representative of an industry-academia partnership exploring the integration of greenhouse gas removal technologies into linear infrastructure projects. The focus of the group’s work is biochar (“essentially charcoal”) and ‘enhanced mineral weathering’.

Dr Sohi said that the group would be submitting a proposal for a pilot project to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that would run for three years (2022-2025). He was interested in whether there are use cases for the technology in the rail industry and which stakeholders the project should be engaging with. 

This session brought the event, which was partnered by Network Rail and the UK Rail Research & Innovation Network (UKRRIN), to a close. The focus of all those present – not to mention the glare of the world’s media – will return to Glasgow shortly, however, for COP26. For RIA, the ‘Unlocking Innovation’ series will resume in 2022.

Find out more about RIA’s Unlocking Innovation programme at www.riagb.org.uk/UnlockingInnovation 


Talk to us

Railway Industry Association

Kings Buildings
16 Smith Square
United Kingdom

© Railway Industry Association Great Britain 2022    


RIA is a company limited by guarantee registered in England & Wales Reg. No. 10036044