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 achieving Net-Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The OU actively explores issues relating to both the supply and use of energy. On the supply side we consider the electrification agenda as well as other low carbon alternatives. We have researched the distribution of low carbon energy in the form of electricity and hydrogen. We are, giving weight to justice and equity issues interested in the role of energy supply and use in the smart cities of the future. As regards energy use our interests span transport, heating and traditional electricity uses. We also consider the importance of design and the built environment.
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.
With its team-supervision approach, the OU is well-suited to researching interdisciplinary and complex problems. Such investigations can include the relationship between energy and other important issues such as water quality, waste management and environmental justice. In the energy area the university is open to research ideas proposed by prospective PhD students.
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.
For our energy demand investigations the campus itself can be a good source of research data and we are able to benefit from much goodwill from OU Estates.
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, Two of our PhD alumni now work for the same international specialist start-up providing high level technology advice to emerging private sector companies and public sector bodies on matters relating to the most advanced nuclear technology systems.
Another OU Energy researcher has recently secured employment as a research scientist with the US Department of Energy. A third recent PhD government is now shaping UK energy policy as a senior policy officer in the UK civil service while a fourth works in a major international organisation on aspects of energy regulation.