Energy: the next big discovery

Making possible a new generation of discoveries that provide affordable, clean energy for everyone on the planet for generations to come.

Energy: the next big discovery

Humanity consumes over 150 billion kilowatt-hours of energy each year, and demand continues to grow. 85% of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels which emit greenhouse gases and pollute the air.

Using current science and technology, we may not be able to provide energy to the Earth's population, without destroying our planet.

At the forefront of energy technologies

Discoveries and technologies born at Cambridge – such as the turbine, and the splitting of the atom – underpin energy production in the modern world. Today, our scientists and engineers are at the forefront of developing technologies that could lead to a future in which green, affordable energy is available for all.

  • Super conductor

Could the Sahara power southern Europe?

One technology that our scientists and engineers are working on is superconductivity, a ‘quantum’ state of matter in which electric current can be transmitted with less or even zero resistance. This could one day lead to solar power farmed in the Sahara Desert providing energy for most of Southern Europe.

Superconductors can so far only function at -70°C or below, and enormous scientific and technical challenges need to be overcome before this becomes a practical technology. But we are working on it. 

Nuclear fuel tubes

Could there be a safer route to a nuclear future?

One technology that could be with us far sooner is nuclear energy that uses thorium, not plutonium as a fuel. Thorium nuclear would not produce the very long-term actinide waste associated with current technology.

Dr Ben Lindley explained how his research brought thorium nuclear one step closer:

“There’s a lot of talk about thorium nuclear energy in the news but the issues surrounding it are complex. For one thing, it’s not just thorium, but thorium combined with a completely new type of nuclear reactor that’s getting journalists excited.

This ‘molten salt’ reactor is a very promising design, but the technology is under development so it could be a while before we see a prototype. I took a different approach, which was to explore how we could use thorium with existing reactor technologies. At the end of my PhD, I think we had a credible model.”

Investing to find the next generation of discoveries

Our ambition is to raise £500 million to provide world-class scientific infrastructure. This will enable a new generation of discoveries that help solve the global energy challenge and other similar critical issues.

Next steps

Georgina Cannon

Georgina Cannon

Managing Director of Development

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Sara Dietz at work in a laboratory

Help us reinforce the freedom of institutions, academics, researchers and students to follow their intellectual curiosity – something that has been at the heart of every transformative discovery in human history. The University's interdisciplinary research networks look at global challenges with fresh eyes, generating a steady stream of innovative ideas that lead to solutions to resolve them.