Government announces where funding will go to enable the country to bridge the technological ‘valley of death’

Advanced materials and energy are two of the ‘eight great technologies’ that the UK government wants to use to propel the country to future growth. The government has now announced how it will allocate funding to them with the aim of taking them from the lab to the marketplace.

The Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, explains: ‘It is R&D and technology and engineering as distinct from pure science. It is our historic failure to back this which lies behind the familiar problems of the so-called “valley of death” between scientific discoveries and commercial applications.’

The eight areas will receive £464 million of the £600 million allocated to science in the Autumn Statement on top of the ring-fenced science budget. The areas the government wants to turn into new hi-tech industries for the UK are advanced materials, energy, big data, space, robotics and autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine and agri-science.  

New facilities and equipment for advanced materials research in areas such as advanced composites, high-performance alloys, low-energy electronics and telecommunications has been earmarked to receive £45 million, as well as £30 million to create R&D facilities to develop and test new grid-scale energy storage technologies. Big data and energy-efficient computing in areas like earth observation and medical science will get £189 million and £65 million has been set aside for the country’s research sites at Rothamsted, Harwell, Sci-Tech Daresbury and Aberystwyth’s IBERS. Life sciences, including synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, the National Biologics Industry Innovation Centre and the National Composites Centre in Bristol, will receive £108 million.

Robert Parker, chief executive of the RSC, welcomed the additional investment: ‘This is a real, positive sign that the government recognises the importance of a strong, hi-tech and innovative science base.’ Several areas, such as energy storage and advanced materials, rely heavily on the chemical sciences, he notes. However, Parker stresses that there must be sufficient funding available for maintaining and running capital equipment, and that capital investment must come with a long-term increase in research funding, to enable scientists to use the new infrastructure.

Assistant director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Beck Smith, while also welcoming the announcement, remarks: ‘What the sector needs now is a long-term strategic vision for science which spans all government departments, so that policies in areas like immigration and education work together to ensure the UK really can be the best place in the world to do science.’