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World-leading British engineering innovations for a sustainable society

22 June 2020

The Royal Academy of Engineering has announced the finalists for the 2020 MacRobert Award, a prestigious prize for UK engineering innovation.

Jaguar Land Rover (Warwickshire) for developing the I-PACE
Jaguar Land Rover (Warwickshire) for developing the I-PACE

This year’s shortlist recognises world-first engineering innovations developed in the UK that deliver tangible social benefits through significantly reduced environmental impact. The final line-up is made up of British teams that are reducing vehicle emissions, from construction and shipping to family cars.

The MacRobert Award is run by the Royal Academy of Engineering and since 1969 has recognised engineering achievements that demonstrate outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success.

This year’s three finalists are all world firsts developed in the UK:

• Babcock’s LGE business (Fife, Scotland) for developing ecoSMRT, a disruptive technology to dramatically improve the efficiency of transporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) around the world. Ships carrying LNG must control the pressure of their LNG cargo, as evaporation occurs in the tanks. The ecoSMRT system captures and re-liquefies this ‘boil-off’ gas, with significant reductions in emissions compared with current technology. The ecoSMRT LNG reliquefaction system for LNG carriers delivers up to a 50% reduction in carbon footprint, a 50% reduction in maintenance costs, 40% reduction in the physical space required, and improves power efficiency by up to 20% when compared with existing systems. Each ecoSMRT reliquefaction system in service on an LNG ship will save the equivalent of up to 19,000 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted per year, compared to older systems that burn off the excess gas. With demand for LNG set to double by 2040, boil-off gas recovery is fundamental to improving the environmental credentials of today’s modern LNG carrier fleets.

• Jaguar Land Rover (Warwickshire) for developing the I-PACE, the world’s first premium battery-electric sports utility vehicle (SUV). Jaguar Land Rover is one of the first major vehicle manufacturers to transition to electric vehicles and the I-PACE is in the vanguard of this strategic shift. Revolutionary in its design, engineering and technical specifications, the I-PACE has a range of up to 292 miles. Its core innovations include novel approaches to battery, thermal management, and e-motor technology. The I-PACE was granted 40 significant patents for its innovative technology overall, and its software and control systems include over 250,000 lines of code.

• JCB (Staffordshire) for developing and manufacturing the world’s first volume produced fully electric digger (19C-1E), with zero exhaust emissions, improved productivity, outstanding noise and vibration characteristics and emission-free at point of use for inside buildings. Rapid urbanisation is happening across the globe, but this is negatively impacting air quality and global warming initiatives. The JCB 19C-1E signals the beginning of a revolution in conscious construction, and is the only volume produced battery-powered excavator on the market. To date, the current fleet has saved the equivalent of 15,100kg in CO2 emissions across 5,616 hours of work.

Babcock’s LGE business (Fife, Scotland) for developing ecoSMRT
Babcock’s LGE business (Fife, Scotland) for developing ecoSMRT

All three finalists demonstrate the sheer ingenuity of engineers in developing significant engineering innovations that support the Academy’s drive to build a sustainable society, enabling faster decarbonisation and more sustainable use of resources.

The winner of this year’s MacRobert Award will be announced in July. The winning team will receive the signature MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize. 

Now in its 51st year, MacRobert Award winning innovations have changed the world, delivering enormous economic and societal benefit and contributing to the UK’s standing as a world leading knowledge economy and the eighth largest manufacturing economy. 

The first award in 1969 was made jointly for two iconic innovations: to Rolls-Royce for the Pegasus engine used in the Harrier jump jet, and to Freeman, Fox and Partners for aerodynamic deck design of the Severn Bridge. 

Other former winning innovations include:

JCB (Staffordshire) for developing and manufacturing the world’s first volume produced fully electric digger
JCB (Staffordshire) for developing and manufacturing the world’s first volume produced fully electric digger

• Allowing doctors to see inside the human body with the CT scanner invented at EMI (1972 MacRobert Award winner).

• Raising one of the world’s largest structures - the Millennium Dome, now the O2, engineered by Buro Happold (1999 MacRobert Award winner).

• Creating a computer the size of a credit card - Raspberry Pi (2017 MacRobert Award winner).

• Diagnosing cancer through a simple breath test - the ReCIVA breath biopsy developed by Owlstone Medical (2018 MacRobert Award winner).

MacRobert Award winners are chosen by an expert panel of Academy Fellows, who have vast experience across engineering industry and academia. 

Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award judging panel, said: ”This year’s finalists raise the bar when it comes to understanding the part British engineering has to play in shaping a more sustainable future. UK engineers are influential agents of change, and our shortlist represents the transformative impact that their innovations are having on a global scale.

”It is testament to the strength and experience of our UK engineering community – a sector that contributes 25% to the UK’s economy – that Babcock’s LGE business, Jaguar Land Rover and JCB have established world firsts in their respective fields.“

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