Sustainable systems

Building on our international reputation in environmental systems analysis to continue to develop and apply a range of interdisciplinary tools for the analysis, design and management of sustainable technologies, systems and infrastructures.

Tools for analysis and design

This theme builds on the long standing strengths of our Centre in environmental systems analysis, linking to complementary expertise across the campus. The intention is to further develop a range of analytic and modelling tools and techniques for sustainability, informed by the conceptual and empirical research of the social research on sustainability theme.

Expertise in established techniques such as life cycle assessment, value chain analysis and industrial ecology are built upon to address the strong business and policy interest in areas such as carbon accounting (footprinting), and research will expand into a range of newer approaches such as dynamic simulation, agent-based modelling and approaches to uncertainty.

Topic areas

  • Decision support for sustainability in corporate investment and policy design
  • Infrastructure design and implementation - including sustainable cities, supply chains, integration of innovative service delivery
  • Sustainable energy systems and technologies - eg decentralised energy, bioenergy, consumer information, demand management and smart meters
  • Low carbon transitions - modelling a sustainable/low carbon society
  • Water resources management
  • Sustainable agriculture and food systems
  • Transport planning and design - including aviation
  • Commodity and resource flows and waste management - eg electronic goods, construction.


Start date: 2020                    End date: 2022

Developing countries such as Mexico have a diverse richness in biomass resources that can support the UN sustainable development goals (SDG1: No Poverty; SDG2: Zero Hunger; SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy; SDG13: Climate Action) through bioenergy generation (electricity, heat, biofuel) and coproduction of food, feed and nutrient. This project aims to progress such integrated bioenergy/biorefinery technologies' readiness level (TRL) to practical applications in industrial environment (TRL:5-9) from fundamental discovery (TRL:3-5) achieved in our previous Newton projects (RCP1516/1/93 and 249594) to help delivering Mexico's renewable energy, climate change mitigation and social equality targets in accordance with the SDGs.

Outputs: Access our deployable eco-innovative sustainable biorefinery designs at advanced TRL (8-9 for biomass cogeneration, biodiesel, bioethanol and 5-8 for green diesel, bio jet fuel, with food, feed, nutrient production) on TESARREC™ (Trademark: UK00003321198)

CES academics involved are:

PI: Dr Jhuma Sadhukhan

CoI: Professor Stephen Morse

CoI: Professor Richard Murphy


Start date: February 2020           End date: June 2021

The Ethiopian Minigrid Extension and Energy Storage (EMEES) project aims to develop an innovative biomass conversion technology (PyroPower). The project is effectively a feasibility study of setting up an in-country demonstration plant in Ethiopia. The project defines 3 distinct market opportunities as outputs of the technology, which address energy storage opportunities which will benefit urban and rural communities in Ethiopia. The market opportunities are: 1) direct provision and extension of electricity through biomass-powered minigrids and rechargeable lithium battery storage options; 2) provision of an upgraded bio-oil/biodiesel fuel blend which will replace fossil-derived fuels in internal combustion engines; and 3) a smokeless biochar which can be briquetted or pelletised for use in local

markets, as a replacement for traditional firewood and charcoal for cleaner cooking options, or exported as a foreign exchange-earning commodity. The project aims to test the viability of converting agricultural crop residues into a) renewable power that is distributed to off-grid rural communities via a minigrid powered by the PyroPower system, b) extend renewable energy options in the form of liquid biofuels to supplement or replace existing fossil fuel use in telephone mast gensets, local agri-processing industries, water pumping and agricultural machinery, c) solid smokeless fuels for local use and for export in the form of biocoal briquettes, for which there is a ready UK market. The study will also explore the logistics and cost benefit of converting recycled lithium batteries into rechargeable home battery packs. Lithium batteries provide a preferable alternative to lead acid batteries which the Ethiopian government would like to phase out.

Investigators involved:

Mairi Black

Jhuma Sadhukhan

Start date: January 2021           End date: January 2023

This project has two components:

Product Development & Characterisation – We will develop a fundamental understanding of product performance characteristics (in terms of mechanical properties & UV degradation), investigate characteristics of existing products of the Company Partner, and benchmark for comparison with the products being developed.

Sustainable Process Development – We will develop a process to enable new sustainable polymer development with improved UV stability and fire retardant qualities and set up a R&D laboratory to control the batch making process and testing of new sustainable products.

Lead academic: Jhuma Sadhukhan

  • Project start date: 2019
  • Project end date: 2024.

We host one of the three themes of the Environmental Biotechnology Network (EBNet): Technology interfaces for process integration, techno-economic and sustainability assessment led by Dr Jhuma Sadhukhan.

The Environmental Biotechnology Network (EBNet) is one of six phase II networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy funded primarily by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) with additional funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and builds on the successful Anaerobic Digestion Network, one of 13 Phase I NIBB.

Our community of academics and industry are dedicated to engineering microbial systems for environmental protection, bioremediation and resource recovery. These include, for example, microbes in anaerobic digestion, waste water treatment, those that biodegrade plastics, oil or other emerging pollutants.

Microbial systems provide a range of environmental protection and bioremediation services, forming the basis for some of the world’s largest industries across the Water-Wastes-Soil nexus. Development of such systems to date has been largely empirical and incremental, but the pace is changing in response to the need to match expanding global demand with finite resources. There are also new challenges to address, ranging from the emergence of new micro-pollutants to the requirement for efficient closed-loop systems that combine treatment with resource recovery.

The current revolution in biological and analytical sciences is creating tools that give unprecedented insights into these systems from genetic to community level, and into factors that can potentially be used to control and harness them. At the same time, new approaches allow enhanced measurement and modelling of engineering phenomena such as mixing and mass transfer, while advances in materials science and separation technologies offer the potential for selectively retaining microbial biomass and/or removing final and intermediate metabolic products. These developments thus offer a chance to optimise existing treatment processes and to create more sustainable ‘future-proof’ technologies in new areas of application. Successful exploitation of these opportunities depends, however, on bringing together an enhanced knowledge of the underlying science with the ability to apply this in large-scale engineered systems, which must meet both societal expectations and increasingly stringent economic and environmental requirements.

The aim of EBNet is thus to develop and strengthen links between advanced molecular and applied microbiology, engineering and systems optimisation to maximise the societal impacts and benefits. Its overall goal is to take fundamental discovery science towards practical application in key areas of the human/environment interface.

  • Project start date: 1 December 2015
  • Project end date: 31 December 2019.

The objective of this project is to see if we can develop a viable, integrated, efficient and economic system combining bio-electrochemical and biological processes for sustainable liquid fuel production.

The projects results will be relevant to members of current NERC Resource recovery from waste consortium (RRfW), EPSRC SUPERGEN consortia and the CO2 chem network, as well as the European MFC Network and will be disseminated through interaction with these groups.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Collaborative partners

  • Dr Jhuma Sadhukhan, University of Surrey
  • University of Newcastle
  • University of South Wales
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Sheffield.

Industrial partners

  • Tata Steel
  • Northumbrian Water
  • WH Partnership.

  • AIA: Ashford’s Integrated Alternatives
  • Catalysing self-sustaining sanitation chains in informal settlements (3K-SAN)
  • Flexnet: SUPERGEN Flexible Network Technologies
  • Food Climate Research Network (FCRN)
  • Polygeneration of Energy
  • REDUCE: Reshaping Energy Demand of Users by Communication Technology and Economic Incentives
  • ReVISIONS: Regional Visions of Integrated Sustainable Infrastructure Optimised for NeighbourhoodS
  • Socio-economic adaptation to climate change in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Sustainable income standards: towards a greener minimum?
  • SYMPACT: Tools for assessing the systemic impact of technology deployments on energy use and climate emissions
  • TECHNEAU: Technology to enable universal access to safe water
  • Transition pathways to a low carbon economy
  • Building sustainable local nexuses of food, energy and water: from smart engineering to shared prosperity (The Local Nexus Network)
  • CAYSEED: Community Action in Controlling Yam Diseases and Pests in West Africa through High Quality Seed & Improved Agronomic Practices
  • Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery (CLEVER)
  • Creative Outreach for Resource Efficiency (CORE)
  • Designer Catalysts for High Efficiency Biodiesel Production
  • Economic Value Generation and Social Welfare by Waste Biorefining
  • Evolution and Resilience of Industrial Ecosystems programme (ERIE)
  • Green Infrastructure Research Development for Stormwater and Air Quality
  • LocalPURE: Engineering localised synergetic production networks based on renewable resources
  • Realising Transition Pathways
  • Resource Recovery from Wastewater with Bioelectrochemical Systems
  • Yam Improvement for Income and Food security in West Africa (YIIFSWA).

Contact us

Find us

Centre for Environment and Sustainability
Arthur C Clarke building, Floor 2
University of Surrey