Inadequate infrastructure costs the nation £2 million a day, and extreme events can cost hundreds of millions more. The University of Bristol is one of 14 university partners in the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC), which has secured £138 million of funding, to be match funded from other sources, as part of the UK Government’s spending review to develop a world-class, UK-based national infrastructure research community.
UKCRIC aims to provide a capability and knowledge base to ensure the long-term functioning of the UK’s transport systems, energy systems, clean water supplies, waste management, flood defences and the development of SMART infrastructures. UKCRIC will co-ordinate partnerships across industry, academia, government and communities in an unprecedented bid to align knowledge producers with the needs of the UK.
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “From traffic congestion and floods to rising populations, our cities face big challenges that need innovative infrastructure solutions to keep services secure, low-cost, and effective. That’s why, as a One Nation Government, we are investing £138 million in this world-leading UK research network to develop new materials and engineering solutions that will deliver world-class infrastructure up and down the country.”
The University’s Earthquake Engineering and Simulation Laboratory in the Faculty of Engineering will form part of UKCRIC, providing enhanced world-leading experimental capabilities, including unique techniques to improve the performance and reduce the costs of foundations of buildings, bridges, ports and nuclear facilities.
In addition, through the University’s Bristol Is Open (BIO), a joint venture with Bristol City Council, the Faculty of Engineering will contribute its innovative Smart Internet Lab capabilities to UKCRIC. BIO will allow detailed observations of how real city infrastructure systems, including the people who use them, actually work. The system will also enable rapid evaluation of new city technologies in actual city conditions. The Clifton Suspension Bridge will be used as a test bed for learning how best to deploy these exciting technologies.
Colin Taylor, Professor of Earthquake Engineering in the Department of Civil Engineering, who is leading Bristol’s participation in UKCRIC, said: “The University is delighted to be playing a central role within the UKCRIC initiative as it helps ensure that the UK’s £466 billion pipeline of infrastructure renewal projects promotes societal well-being and delivers value for money.
“The new facilities will improve our understanding of how infrastructure actually works at full-scale in the laboratory and in the field. Better understanding will reduce the need for overdesign, and will reduce costs. It will also make it easier to reduce the risks that currently hold back innovation and prevent us from exploiting new technologies that will deliver greater value from existing and future infrastructure.
“UKCRIC will also be a unique environment in which the University can provide innovative education for the people who will create and live in our future cities and communities.”
Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, added: “Bristol is recognised as a world leader in the experimental and city observation techniques that will underpin these improvements. Crucially, these techniques also cover our understanding of how people, businesses, government and other societal organisations interact with and are served by infrastructure.
“UKCRIC’s innovative concept will enable Bristol’s researchers to collaborate with academic colleagues, industry, local government and citizens in Bristol and across the UK and globally in producing new, world-leading, wealth creating approaches for providing the infrastructure we need in the future.
“UKCRIC will also add timely momentum to the University’s support of the long-term legacy of the City of Bristol’s successful year as European Green Capital 2015.”
Outside national security and medicine, UKCRIC will be one of the largest collaborative research projects in the UK. Current national and international partners include: Bristol City Council, Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, EDF Energy, Network Rail, Arup, Mott MacDonald, BuroHappold, Atkins, National Grid, DfT, and Thames Water, with many more partners to follow. In order to tap further into the UK’s expertise and creativity, UKCRIC’s founding core of 14 universities will be expanded over the coming years.
UKCRIC programmes will integrate research on infrastructure needs, utilisation and performance through experiments, analysis, living labs and modelling. This will provide a new combination of decision support tools to inform infrastructure operators, planners, financiers, regulators, cities, and government on the optimisation of infrastructure capacity, performance and investment. Unconventionally UKCRIC includes practitioners and citizens as participants in the research team and co-producers of the research, and in the conversation and the operation of infrastructures that will result. The integration of so many sectors and disciplines signals a paradigm shift to the way in which vital research is carried out.