University Challenge: Fostering Innovation through our Academic Engagement Plan

Published 29 April 2019

HV Materials Laboratory | ORE Catapult | Electrical Infrastructure

The UK has a long and illustrious history as a research nation. Data compiled in 2017 showed that despite having less than 1% of the world’s population, we produce over 6% of academic articles and over 15% of its most highly-cited research. And with four of the world’s top 50 universities among its total of 160 centres of learning, Britain remains a world-leader in the field of academia.

All of this prime research real estate provides fertile ground for the Catapult’s academic engagement programme. Working in partnership with academia is key to our mission of lowering costs and fostering new technology development in our sector.

Moreover, the launch of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal has brought into sharp focus the need for continued research and innovation. To deliver on its commitment of up to 30GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, turning academic research into industrial innovation will take on crucial importance.

Increasing academic investment is one of the five key pillars of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and it is research that will drive the four Grand Challenges that aim to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future. Academic innovation will also underpin increased UK content in offshore wind farms, as the industry moves towards its target of 60%.

Building links between high-growth-potential local supply chain businesses, and the university partners that can provide the expertise and testing facilities to support the development of their technologies, will be vital.

The Catapult plays a central role in that transfer of ideas into tangible, real-world cost reduction. Its Research Hubs are designed to create researcher communities, offering businesses access to both the Catapult and university research networks – creating an attractive, holistic solution for the many companies and organisations who want to engage.

“The Research Hubs are central to our academic engagement,” says Paul McKeever, the Catapult’s Head of Strategic Research. “They focus on key areas with selected Universities, as opposed to a more fragmented project-based approach.”

“We have five key research areas,” says McKeever, “and in our strongest three we have established Research Hubs: Wind Turbine Blades, Powertrains, and Electrical Infrastructures.”

The Research Hubs follow a “hub-and-spokes” model that drives the greatest impact for their investment and provides alignment with the Catapult’s key research areas. “The principle behind this model is to identify a lead academic partner that we can form a close working relationship with,” says Derek Craig, the Catapult’s Academic Engagement Manager. “We design a research programme together to utilise our collective expertise, and then we use the spokes to bring in the extra industrial or academic resource needed.”

“The flexible, industry-facing nature of our research hubs also enables a researcher to focus on an urgent issue for six months,” says McKeever, “and that allows us to solve problems for industry quicker.”

The Catapult also engages with specialist centres, like the University of Hull’s Aura, that offer a healthy pipeline of PhDs and researchers. These provide the catalyst for continued collaboration, complementing the Catapult’s core research and development programme.

The mission of the Hubs is simple: to help achieve the main objectives of the Catapult’s research programme. But it’s clear that industry will benefit most from the continued transition of academic research into tangible products and services that bring offshore renewable energy costs down. As the UK’s offshore renewables sector continues its upward trajectory, the Catapult’s research and academic engagement strategy will evolve to meet the challenges that lie ahead, whilst keeping the academic institution collaborations at its heart.


Discover more about our academic collaborations in the latest Circuit Magazine