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A £22bn R&D boost and the 'billionaire space race': 10 top stories of the week

Professional Engineering

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo system, and Blue Origin's New Shephard rocket (Credit: Virgin Galactic/ Blue Origin)
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo system, and Blue Origin's New Shephard rocket (Credit: Virgin Galactic/ Blue Origin)

Government plans £22bn annual R&D boost

The Engineer

The government has set out its new Innovation Strategy, including plans to increase annual public investment in R&D to £22bn. The strategy, which will be put into operation by Innovate UK and UK Research and Innovation, aims to apply lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic to solve other challenges being faced by the UK.

Future manufacturing engineers must be creative automation experts, survey finds

Professional Engineering

Future manufacturing engineers will need to complement deep knowledge of automation and robotics with advanced communication skills and creativity to keep up with the pace of change in the next 10 years, a new survey by the IMechE and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has found. Eighty-four per cent of respondents ranked automation, robotics and mechatronics as the most important skills for manufacturing engineers in the next 10 years.

New molten sodium batteries offer cheaper renewable energy storage

E&T

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico have developed a new class of molten sodium battery, which is reportedly much cheaper to operate than previous examples. The new battery, which could be used for grid-scale energy storage, operates at 110ºC – much cooler than conventional types, which typically operate at 270-350ºC.

The engineering behind the billionaire space race

Professional Engineering

Two billionaires have travelled to space in the past fortnight. While some question the merits of making space a tourist destination, the engineering behind both projects is nonetheless remarkable. Here’s a quick round-up of features on both spacecraft.

Enzyme-based plastic recycling ‘can be cost competitive’

E&T

Enzyme-based recycling of common plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) could be cost competitive and more sustainable than conventional fossil-fuel-based methods of PET production, according to new research by the US Department of Energy and the University of Portsmouth.

Huge helium balloon offers low-cost rocket alternative for Hubble-rivalling telescope

Professional Engineering

A helium balloon the size of a football stadium will launch a new kind of astronomical telescope to the edge of space. Enabling much cheaper access to space than rocket launches, the balloon will carry the Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope (Superbit) above 99.5% of the Earth’s atmosphere. The telescope is a collaboration between Durham University, NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and Toronto and Princeton universities.

Autonomous drone program beats human pilots in race

E&T

Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland have developed a drone-piloting algorithm that can beat human pilots. The program generates ‘time-optimal trajectories’ that take drones’ limitations into account.

‘Gigafactory’ boost needed to meet UK’s electric car ambitions’

Energy Live News

The UK needs a further 100GWh of battery gigafactory capacity to meet its ambitions for domestic electric vehicle production, according to the Environmental Audit Committee. The committee said the government’s £500m Automotive Transformation Fund is not enough.

Environment Agency sets out carbon-capture guidance

Professional Engineering

The Environment Agency has set out guidance for the use of industrial carbon capture, which can trap carbon dioxide emissions at source and prevent them from reaching the atmosphere. Coming after the government announced aims to capture 10m tonnes a year by 2030, the guidance for post-combustion CO2 capture (PCC) was produced with the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre, and other regulators and industry stakeholders.

Energy-absorbing material used in cycle helmet prototype

The Engineer

Researchers at NTU Singapore and partners Arkema have developed a prototype cycle helmet designed to reduce the chances of serious injury in a crash. The helmet has an outer shell of Elium, an energy-absorbing thermoplastic resin reinforced with carbon fibre.


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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