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Net zero hour

The EPSRC scheme looking to turn research outputs green

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s accelerating research outcomes to deliver a prosper–ous net zero scheme opened to outline applications on 21 March.

As its name implies, the call looks to enable researchers to build on outputs from research previously funded by the EPSRC and help UK society move towards zero carbon emissions.

Researchers can apply for between £100,000 and £800,000 (funded at 80 per cent full economic cost) for projects of up to two years’ duration. The total fund available for this call is £7.5 million. The deadline for outline applications is 16 May.

The EPSRC’s Rhys Perry, senior manager for impact and business engagement, and Laura Totterdell, senior manager for manufacturing and the circular economy, explain what the council will be looking for in bids.

How does this scheme fit in the EPSRC’s portfolio?

Rhys Perry: We see this as the pilot for a new kind of EPSRC funding scheme. We’re looking to bridge the gap between research and innovation, building on the strength of prior EPSRC-funded research. We are focusing on net zero for this pilot because of the scale of that challenge.

Laura Totterdell: Depending on how it goes and the outcomes and following evaluation, it might be a scheme we would consider running more broadly.

Are there other schemes that might overlap?

RP: We’re trying to not duplicate any other schemes with this call. That said, there may be some people working in research areas that lie close on the boundary with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council who might consider both this scheme and the BBSRC’s follow-on fund. Similarly, some people at universities that have Impact Acceleration Accounts might be able to do similar projects via those, but the scale that’s available with this scheme means that applicants can be a bit more ambitious here.

LT: We ask applicants to explain why this is the right funding and why those existing schemes might not work for their project. We’re also aware that some funds are not accessible to everyone, depending on their institution.

Is there a focus on commercialisation activities, as there is with the BBSRC follow-on fund?

RP: We want to see commercialisation activities, but we want to see other types of impact as well, so maybe public engagement as a pathway to achieving societal impact, market exploration, building evidence of policy or other barriers. There is a list of suggestions in the call guidance.

Are there any restrictions on the EPSRC funding that can feed into this grant? Maybe a time limit?

RP: There’s no time limit for when the previous funding was awarded. But in their new application, applicants must demonstrate that the current project is timely. More generally, the prior grant could have been part of a wider UKRI programme, but must have been awarded by the EPSRC.

LT: Also, the person leading the new application does not have to be the principal investigator on the prior grant. They don’t even have to be named on it. So a student or a postdoctoral research associate on a prior grant could lead the follow-on application, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.

There’s a wide range allowed in the funding amount—why?

RP: Largely because we want applications across the full range of funding that’s available. The amount needs to be appropriate for the different types of impact that will be delivered. Applications that are more focused on social or policy impact might not be as costly as those focused on commercialisation, which may require some technical equipment to deliver their outcomes.

Is there a baseline of partner or stakeholder involvement that you expect to have already been reached when people apply?

RP: We haven’t set a baseline for that but we would expect most projects to include relevant project partners or some sort of user involvement to ensure the outcomes will deliver the expected benefits and avoid unintended consequences.

LT: That element is very important. If you want to deliver outcomes that can be used and picked up, then you need to involve the people who will use them. Partnerships and user involvement need to fit the needs of the project to deliver the outcomes. At the outline stage there’s no need for letters of support but applicants can and should write about who their partners and stakeholders are. 

How much detail on outputs is necessary?

LT: I’d say quite a bit. We want to know, does this project fit this scheme? This scheme is all about generating impact to drive the transition to net zero, so discussion of the outputs is among the elements that should have the most space.

RP: In relation to that, we would want to see that they have clear milestones planned. We also understand that it can be quite high-risk work, so clear identification of those risks and mitigation measures would be favourably viewed. 

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com