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Driving a zero carbon transition through R&D

Posted June 08, 2023


Research & Develpment plays a key role in driving the UK towards a zero carbon transition. 

A Net Zero Commitment

EDF is the UK’s largest producer of zero carbon generation from wind, nuclear and solar, meeting around one-fifth of the country’s energy demand and supplying millions of customers across many segments within the supply market. Several strategic partnerships enable us  to be active in all parts of the value chain by offering more than just energy supply, but also providing technical and electric mobility services.

Our core purpose is to help Britain achieve Net Zero and to achieve this in a sustainable way – environmentally, economically, and socially.  Whilst the world is facing the double challenge of a climate crisis and an energy crisis, research and development plays a key role in delivering innovation and accelerating our transition to Net Zero.


The Role of R&D

EDF's R&D function in the UK is a lean, agile wholly owned subsidiary, established in 2012 and made up of a diverse and multi-national group of around 70 employees. their vision is to ”Drive research and innovation to go beyond Net Zero” and do so by delivering projects and services to support internal and external customers. To achieve this, the UK team harness the expertise of international counterparts to support the client needs, constantly innovating to find solutions to environmental challenges.

Researchers, engineers, and innovators are leaders in their fields and work with diverse partners to find solutions, spanning various critical areas, including nuclear technology, energy systems flexibility, zero carbon mobility, heat decarbonisation, energy hubs, and digital innovation. All these components play a pivotal role in achieving EDF's Net Zero goal, with each contributing its part to the larger puzzle.


The Hydrogen Frontier

Among EDF's various research areas, hydrogen has emerged as a hot topic.  We see hydrogen capturing the interest of many business sectors. Whether in the context of nuclear energy, renewables, or customer needs, hydrogen plays a significant role in each area.

It is a potentially invaluable resource for clients looking to reduce their emissions, with some applications better suited to hydrogen than electricity. The UK is currently at the dawn of the hydrogen economy, with expectations of 100 to 300 terawatt-hours of hydrogen production by 2050.


Digital Innovation and Artificial Intelligence

The digital innovation specialists at EDF make up another critical component of the company's R&D function. They are exploring cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and computer vision to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of energy production and maintenance processes.

AI is not just a buzzword at EDF; it's a tool that we’re leveraging for tasks such as analysing drone images of wind turbines and automating quality checks for smart meter installations.

The potential applications of these technologies in the energy sector are vast and continually evolving.


A Case Study in Collaboration

One of our most exciting projects is the development of hydrogen production for use in the cement industry, in collaboration with Hanson Cement.  

The project demonstrates how we can work together in partnership with our customers not only as a supplier but as a market expert. The leading way to produce hydrogen in a zero carbon way is through electrolysis which involves putting an electric current through water. This produces hydrogen and oxygen. There’s no carbon emitted at any point in the process as long your electricity sources are zero carbon. One emerging technology, Solid Oxide Electrolysis, has the potential to be significantly more efficient than the widely used Alkaline and PEM electrolysis technologies, particularly when operated at high temperatures. This technology fits perfectly with nuclear as a nuclear power station fundamentally produces zero Carbon heat, which is typically then converted to electricity, but in future could also be used for other things

EDF and Hanson, along with other partners, jointly applied for government funding to demonstrate this exciting technology, and to show how it can contribute to decarbonising some key processes in Cement and Asphalt manufacture. This initiative illustrates how EDF can contribute to decarbonising dispersed industrial sites, which account for about 50% of the country's industrial emissions. By finding solutions for these areas, EDF hopes to make a significant impact on the UK's carbon footprint. The partnership approach has driven a hugely successful feasibility study and we hope to be able to progress to making the demonstration a reality.


So, what does this mean for the future?

The future of Research & Development at EDF is based on the opportunities for innovation and collaboration. We’re not only focused on zero carbon energy generation but also on how to leverage emerging technologies and create value across the entire energy value chain. From nuclear to renewables, from energy storage to zero carbon mobility, and from digital transformation to hydrogen applications, we’re exploring new frontiers to deliver on our purpose: to help Britain achieve Net Zero.

The journey towards achieving a Net Zero future is a collective one.  Our innovative projects and R&D efforts demonstrate our commitment to this goal. Our openness to collaboration signifies our readiness to work with various partners to overcomes challenges and create solutions for a more sustainable future.


In the end, the lessons learned, and the innovations born out of these collaborations will be instrumental in transforming the energy landscape. They will pave the way for more efficient energy systems, greener industries, and sustainable solutions that can benefit all stakeholders. As we continue to push the boundaries in R&D, it sends a strong message to the industry: innovation and collaboration are key to achieving a Net Zero future.

EDF look forward to the exciting developments that R&D will bring on this journey towards a more sustainable future. We will remain at the forefront of these efforts, setting new standards, driving innovation, and leading the way to Net Zero.


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Rebecca Rosling
Head of Smart Customers 
Research & Development at EDF