Capital funding

To maintain and strengthen the excellence and impact of UK environmental science, NERC needs to invest in new technologies, equipment, infrastructure, facilities and estates.

This includes providing capital support for our existing assets as well as identifying new priorities, including those at our research centres, at universities and other research organisations. This investment supports a broad and diverse "well-found" research base and provides opportunities to advance the UK innovation agenda.

NERC's process for prioritising capital investment is informed by the views of the NERC community and aligns closely with our other investments in research, innovation and training.

Latest developments

£4·3 million investment into air pollution (January 2018)

NERC is investing £4·3 million into the creation of three urban air pollution research laboratories, based in London, Birmingham and Manchester. These observatories will collect vital data on the atmospheric concentrations of toxic pollutants, as well as levels of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting chemicals. As well as the new research observatories, the investment will also fund the creation of a new real-world road transport emissions research capability supporting the improvement of emissions inventories and an upgraded national research system for the quantification of UK greenhouse gases.

Eight universities (King's College London, University of Manchester, University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, University of York, University of Cambridge, University of East Anglia and the University of Edinburgh) will be awarded the funding, and will jointly set up and run the equipment, being led by the NERC Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS). This infrastructure is estimated to become operational by the end of 2018 and will provide data that will help the UK achieve its targets set by Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement.

This investment will be supported by the Department for Transport, who are funding £600,000 for new training and research posts to work on the enhanced air pollution monitoring sites and vehicle emission testing equipment.

£6·2 million investment in EISCAT 3D announced (August 2017)

NERC is awarding £6·2 million to the EISCAT association to support construction of the EISCAT_3D radar in the Nordic region. The EISCAT_3D - external link system will comprise five phased array antenna fields that transmit and receive radio data reflected from the ionosphere. This will provide high resolution monitoring of how Earth's atmosphere interacts with space over a much broader area of the sky than ever before, and has a broad range of scientific applications. This includes chiefly the monitoring of space weather phenomena, which may compromise power grids and satellite communications. However the data will also be valuable to research into climate change, plasma physics, space debris and near-Earth object studies.

EISCAT_3D is estimated to become fully operational by 2021, with construction beginning in summer 2018 at the core site near Skibotn in Norway followed by the first two receiver sites near Bergfors in Sweden and Karesuvanto in Finland. The current estimate of the investment required for EISCAT_3D is €128 million over the eight years of the project's lifetime.

£15 million investment for Marine Autonomous Systems (MAS) and sensors (May 2016)

A £10 million investment will be made through the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global marine science and technology innovation by developing a new 1,500m depth-rated Autosub Long Range (ALR1500) and a new 6,000m depth-rated autonomous underwater vehicle (Autosub6000 Mk2). This will support future under-ice and deep-ocean science, including a number of upcoming major marine research programmes such as the Changing Arctic Ocean programme. There will also be investment in command-and-control systems for efficient fleet management, and new equipment to support the NERC-EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in 'Smart and Autonomous Observing Systems', called NEXUSS - 'NEXt generation Unmanned System Science'.

NERC will also invest up to £5 million in an open call for novel sensor development suitable for deployment on various submarine and surface platforms including the new MAS platforms described above. Further information will be announced later this year.

Developing new strategic areas for capital investment (November 2015)

The NERC Joint Capital Advisory Group (JCAG) met in November to further discuss the ideas that were submitted to a community engagement process in May 2015. JCAG have been developing a number of strategic areas for potential capital investment that will align with NERC's other funding streams. A more detailed analysis will continue to be developed in the coming months to inform potential future capital priorities. Ideas can be submitted to the strategic science capital process at any time. The cut-off point for the next round for consideration is yet to be agreed.

Developing an approach to capital investments (August 2015)

As part of implementing the new approach to capital investment NERC recently launched a community engagement process to gather ideas for capital investment. Ideas submitted before the first cut-off date (12 May 2015) were discussed by the Joint Capital Advisory Group (JCAG) at the end of June. JCAG has agreed a number of areas to consider further over the coming months. The outputs from this process will help inform NERC's future priorities for capital. Eligible research organisations can continue to submit new ideas through this process.

Community Engagement: Ideas for New Strategic Science Capital (March 2015)

To help NERC gather new ideas for capital investments, a community engagement process has been launched. NERC invites its research community to submit ideas for new capital needs. This is an on-going process with the first round of ideas closing on the 12 May for JCAG discussion later in 2015.

BIS capital roadmap published (February 2015)

BIS has now completed the analysis of the consultation 'Creating the future: a 2020 vision for science and research' (PDF) - external link - and, following the Autumn Statement, has published a capital roadmap as part of the Science and Innovation Strategy (PDF) - external link. Several funding announcements were made during the Autumn Statement including £31 million to create an energy security and innovation observing system for the subsurface that will contribute to the UK's energy security.

NERC's developing approach to capital investment (October 2014)

NERC has set up a new body, the Joint Capital Advisory Group (JCAG), to advise on new capital priorities. This will better align our approach to capital with our other investments, including national capability, strategic research, discovery science, innovation and training. The group includes representatives from our key advisory boards, including the Science Board (SB) (formally know as the Science & Innovation Strategy Board), the Strategic Programme Advisory Group (SPAG) and the Innovation Advisory Board (IAB). We are planning more direct engagement with the wider community to help identify new priorities. Over the last year we have already run a number of competitions for new strategic capital funding.

The Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) recently ran a consultation on capital investment - external link. NERC contributed to a joint Research Councils UK (RCUK) response developed through engagement with our advisory boards. The NERC response made clear our preference for a sustained increase in our baseline capital budget allocation.

If BIS supports this option, it would provide small and medium capital infrastructure, and underpin the capital requirements of the individual research projects and institutions, including at our research centres and universities. A sustained increase in baseline funding would enable NERC to plan more effectively and develop new research infrastructures.

NERC's response also outlined a number of proposals for additional large-scale capital for transformative projects to create a step change in environmental science capabilities. The investments proposed are in areas that are important to delivering the NERC strategy, but that can also deliver societal and economic benefits. The proposals form an integrated approach to environmental observing and data science, and include:

  • a marine autonomy and robotic observing system
  • an integrated flooding and drought observing system
  • an energy security and innovation observing system for the subsurface
  • an environmental information innovation centre.

Following the outcome of the BIS consultation, JCAG will consider the best way to engage with the community to identify future priorities.

If you have any queries, please contact:

NERC Capital Team