The interdisciplinary strengths of The Open University are well suited to the challenges of energy science, technology and policy. Central to much of our research is the global challenge of deep decarbonization by 2050.
The OU has a long-standing interest in matters relating to civil nuclear power at both a technical and a more policy-oriented level. The university is engaged with matters relating to the future of our energy system, particularly involving cleaner and smarter systems. The issues extend beyond the ‘physical layer’ of power flows, to include the ‘cyber layer’ of information technology and the ‘social layer’ of end-user behaviours. The university researches the role of construction and the built environment on energy use and climate impacts. The university also explores environmental management and policy associated with energy services giving weight to issues of justice and equity.
The OU has a very well-established capability in energy materials science especially as concerns steel metallurgy and materials engineering. These interests include bonding and residual stresses – topics of great interest to the energy sector. In addition, we have energy materials work in the following areas: nano-structures, graphene, innovative solar photovoltaics, electricity storage (batteries), nuclear materials and semi-conductor science.
At the interface of science, technology, industrial strategy and government policy the OU researches hydrogen-based energy systems including whole-system (production through to use) technology assessment. We consider both hydrogen from natural gas and renewable-power based ‘green hydrogen’.
- Energy researchers at the Open University fall under an umbrella grouping known as OU Energy.
- In the area of civil nuclear power the OU is one of five universities delivering the EPSRC-funded Nuclear Energy Futures Centre for Doctoral Training. This will provide funded PhD opportunities for PhDs starting up until autumn 2023.
- OU researchers maintain strong links with associated industrial and commercial companies involved in clean energy futures, e.g. EnergyTech
- Our international links to overseas universities and research institutes also greatly enhance our capabilities and the relevance of our work.
- The OU advises and informs policymakers on a wide range of energy issues and for this we can draw upon our strong links to industry, both locally and globally.
Most of our full-time research students are based at our Milton Keynes campus; for details of residence requirements for different modes of study see Full-time study and Part-time study.
The OU has particularly strong experimental capabilities in energy-related materials engineering. Research focuses on the use of advanced metal alloys in demanding applications. Our laboratories include a residual stress facility for X-ray diffraction and ‘contour’ method measurements, a high temperature facility for X-ray diffraction and contour method measurements, a High Temperature Facility for hot forming and creep testing, diffusion bonding equipment and a microscopy suite (optical, SEM, TEM, EBSD, FIB etc.). We have access to international facilities for neutron and synchrotron X-ray diffraction experiments.
The OU also possesses important experimental facilities for energy materials science including X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, Raman scattering, and facilities for plasma-based materials processing. The School of Computing and Communications at the OU maintains a high-performance computing cluster, enabling researchers to more quickly analyse, store and archive vast quantities of energy and transport data. The OU has experimental capability in energy from waste and biomass conversion associated with its own internal needs in environmental waste management. More generally the OU seeks to achieve best practice in terms of its own energy use and management.
Recent OU Energy PhD alumni have gone on to post-doctoral academic research, professional careers in high technology energy companies and in government and international energy policy development. For example, One of our PhD alumni studied innovation in the nuclear sector for his OU PhD and now is part of a small team in an international specialist start-up consultancy providing high level technology advice to emerging private sector companies on matters relating to the most advanced nuclear technology systems.