Five cool things about our environmental research

From decarbonising heat to food security and water sustainability, we’re working to bring about improvements that will benefit nature and the well-being of the planet.

Durham’s research is having an impact on the environment and potentially all of our lives.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more important research focus for us than the environment given that all life depends upon it.

Here are just five of the things we’re doing:

1. Using the heat beneath your feet

Did you know that geothermal energy could provide over 100 years of reliable, low-carbon energy in the UK?

Researchers at Durham Energy Institute are looking at how we can use warm floodwater from the UK’s disused coalmines to heat our homes and workplaces.

To support this, we’re talking to Government, communities and local authorities in former coalmining areas to see how we could use this heat source as an alternative to fossil fuels.

2. Reusing waste plastic

Three of our PhD students have developed a way of recycling waste plastic by turning it into an aggregate used in concrete.

They have set up an award-winning business, called Plastech Innovations, to commercialise the idea.

Their aim is to cut the amount of plastic in our oceans and landfills by putting it to other use - see more in the video above.

3. Improving food security

Our bioscientists are behind research that could help develop crops that can adapt to climate change.

We’ve found a protein that controls how plant roots grow and change according to soil conditions.

Understanding this process could lead to the development of crops that can grow roots even in challenging conditions like drought.

4. Increasing solar efficiency

Our physicists are working on ways to make solar power cheaper and more efficient while also using less material.

Together with partners we’ve been looking at why solar panels made from a material called cadmium telluride produce cheaper electricity than traditional silicon panels.

We’ve found that a substance called selenium stops tiny electrons from becoming trapped and lost in miniscule defects in the panels, increasing the amount of power that can be extracted.

5. Making water sustainable

Water resources are under threat from climate change and growing demand.

We’re working with Government, industry and communities to safeguard this precious resource.

The Water Hub partnership helps businesses develop new ideas like installing specially adapted planters to catch rainwater to reduce flooding risk and encourage plant growth in urban areas.

Read our new brochure about our environmental research.

Learn how we’re shaping the energy debate.

Discover more about our research and opportunities in Energy and Clean Growth and Process Industries and Surface Science.

Find out about research and opportunities in Hazard and Risk and Biosciences.