Pilot Innovation Accelerator Programme Boosts Greater Manchester R&D and Paves the Way to a Sustainable Future

21st March 2024, 6:03 am

Greater Manchester is becoming a hub for innovation and net zero housing thanks to a unique Innovation Accelerator programme, led by Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

Greater Manchester was selected as one of three high-potential innovation clusters to pilot the groundbreaking Innovation Accelerator programme, alongside Glasgow City Region and the West Midlands. This unique pilot is aligned with the Government’s levelling-up agenda and takes a new co-creation approach to investment, reflecting that local leadership in Greater Manchester have a tremendous understanding of the region’s strengths and how to develop them, and Innovate UK is able to connect these local strengths into national and global opportunities. By empowering local innovation, the programme works to drive regional economic growth and attract private R&D investment.

Greater Manchester received a third of the £100 million funding and is making major strides with 10 ambitious projects that are now at their halfway mark.

These projects are driving key innovation work and are vital to building on the frontier sectors identified in the Greater Manchester Innovation Plan: advanced materials and manufacturing, digital and technology, health innovation, and clean growth.

As part of the programme, Innovation Greater Manchester, a business-led partnership that brings together the private sector, academia and local government, has worked with Innovate UK and DSIT to select the funded projects. The ripple effect of the Innovation Accelerator on the wider economy in Greater Manchester is substantial, developing skills, attracting private investment, creating jobs, and stimulating growth.

One of the 10 projects backed by the Innovation Accelerator is the University of Salford’s ‘Future Homes’ project. Future Homes received £3.54 million to assess the performance of a variety of buildings and technologies inside the unique Energy House 2.0, a test facility at Salford. This is the largest facility of its type in the world and its climatic chambers can accommodate up to four full sized homes and subject them to temperatures ranging from minus 20⁰C to plus 40⁰C, including rain, snow and wind.

Project partners Bellway Homes and Barratt Developments (working with Saint-Gobain), have built two detached houses inside the chamber for testing. The work is generating valuable data for future home efficiency, and showing that low-carbon homes can be delivered at scale in the UK.

The Future Homes project aims to establish a globally competitive centre for research and innovation in net-zero housing, supporting innovators in bringing novel low or zero carbon technologies to market. It is anticipated that much of the technology tested will be used in homes from 2025, making them significantly more energy efficient, bringing financial benefits to households through lower running costs.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “The Innovation Accelerator pilot is not just about more funding for research and development; it’s about piloting a new, place-based model for innovation-led growth. We’re already seeing a positive impact on skills, jobs and investment.

“Green industries are crucial to Greater Manchester’s future, and the Future Homes project is a fantastic example of this in action. It is a truly collaborative effort, making technological advances that will make homes more efficient and reduce costs.”

Dean Cook, Director of Place and Levelling up at Innovate UK added, “This unique pilot has supported Greater Manchester to innovate at pace and in a way never seen before, fostering co-creation between business, academia and national and local Government.  

“The Innovation Accelerator programme aims to demonstrate how partnership between a city region and UK Government provides synergy and can strengthen innovation clusters as well as catalyse strong local growth. Greater Manchester leadership has tremendous knowledge on their R&D strengths and how to develop them, and Innovate UK can connect these local strengths into national and global opportunities. Learnings from the pilot programme are already feeding into how we evolve Innovate UK’s broader range of support for business, driving forward the UK as an outstanding place to innovate.”

Prof. Richard Fitton, Professor of Building Performance and Future Homes Technical Lead, said: The Future Homes project is delivering groundbreaking research that will enable the next generation of net zero homes and create a centre of excellence in Greater Manchester. 

“Innovation is core to this and the partnership between academia and industry is enabling companies both big and small to bring their innovations to market, creating economic benefits and cutting carbon emissions. 

 “Thanks to the unique facilities we have in Energy House Labs as part of the University of Salford, we are able to take a truly holistic approach to net zero homes. We will be looking at other key issues such as indoor air quality, the acoustic properties of lightweight buildings, potential noise issues associated with new technologies such as heat pumps, the whole lifecycle impact of houses and the use of digital technologies.” 

The Innovation Accelerator pilot runs until March 2025, and full results and impacts will be shared later. For more information, visit the Innovation Accelerator Programme website. Innovate UK remains committed to pioneering solutions that strengthen the UK’s position in the global innovation landscape.

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