Sustainability Innovation Funds: Network Rail seeking innovative solutions to its challenges

28 July 2020 | Network Rail

Network Rail will be publishing its new environmental sustainability strategy in autumn this year, the headline being that Network Rail is committed to achieving challenging targets in relation to sustainability.

Covid-19 has changed the way we will have to carry out our work and as such will make achieving these targets even more challenging. With Innovate UK’s live opportunity to support business innovation through the Sustainability Innovation Fund, particularly in helping the economy recover from Covid-19, Network Rail would be interested in understanding what possible innovative solutions could help us achieve our role. If you have a project that fits with the criteria of the Sustainability Innovation Funds please approach us through RDI@networkrail.co.uk; we are interested in hearing about proposals which would help address the following challenges:

Measuring and monitoring biodiversity.  Including: identifying and assessing the condition of rare or important habitats; remotely detecting rare or protected species on the railway without the need for an operator to visit the site, carry out the survey, and analyse the data afterwards; and measuring sequestered (or stored) carbon in other habitats (excluding trees) in order to understand how to achieve biodiversity net gain and a net zero carbon balance. More detail about the challenges we face in this area can be found at: https://cdn.networkrail.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Network-Rail-Recommendation-Action-Summary-Response-to-Vegetation-Management-Review.pdf

Air Quality.  Including: Minimising the source of the pollution in stations and depots that link real-time air quality measurements to state-of-the-art air quality management and ventilation systems; and particularly in a response to Covid-19 how we ensure all those using our stations, depots and buildings can be sure the air they breathe minimises their exposure to Covid-19.

Circular economy.  Including a systematic approach to identify the environmental impact of products currently used (such as timber fence posts) and whether they can be substituted with less damaging ones and dealing with, or avoiding, contaminated waste.  Also how can we establish a series of regional distribution centres that can store, manage and send out construction materials including bulk materials that are surplus to requirements and can be used on other Network Rail and Major Infrastructure projects. Network Rail already has several regional centres so it may be that this existing network can be built upon.

Decarbonisation and low carbon plant. As with most corporate entities our scope 3 emissions make up the majority of our footprint accounting for around 97% of our emissions; we are therefore interested in innovative solutions which will help us reduce these emissions through our value chain. Plant is also an area we are interested in reducing our carbon footprint in.  In addition, we want to:

  • Find innovative solutions to reduce the embedded carbon in the materials and construction methodology but also the landscape impacts inherent in the electrification of the railway. 
  • Investigate how Network Rail can lower the energy requirements of and improve the health and wellbeing of employees in its office buildings. Many of these buildings are managed by an external company and therefore there is an added challenge in how improvements to the building fabric and internal fittings can be made.

Information on the Sustainability Innovation Fund can be found here:
https://apply-for-innovation-funding.service.gov.uk/competition/654/overview#scope
https://apply-for-innovation-funding.service.gov.uk/competition/651/overview#scope

Note that time is short to the deadline for these competitions.

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