The UKRI Net Zero Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI) Scoping project is a complex, multi-disciplinary project. This page describes the frequently asked questions. If you have any further questions, please contact us.

NOTE: it is important to realise that we are a UKRI funded project, but we do not speak on behalf of UKRI. The project will produce evidence and advice to feed into the UKRI decision making process. These answers are based on the project teams opinions/experience so far.

General questions about UKRI DRI

What is Digital Research Infrastructure?

You can find a description on the UKRI website.

Where are the digital research infrastructures based?

There are multiple UKRI owned and majority funded machine rooms.

The major UKRI owned machine rooms are run by the STFC Scientific Computing Department, one at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (in Oxfordshire) and another in Daresbury (Lancashire).

Other research councils, particularly EPSRC and MRC fund infrastructure which is situated in machine rooms run by universities and other organisations (e.g. the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) hosts the ARCHER2 machine).

We are not talking about specific new machine rooms associated this project. We are talking about existing infrastructure, which is being knitted together into the UKRI Digital Research Infrastructure. It is conceivable that the roadmap to 2040 might involve some migration to new machine rooms, but also possible that the best approach is to exploit the existing buildings.

Is creation of data centres covered?

Yes. Initial analysis suggests that the building of data centres is not a huge element of the overall carbon footprint. But it is significant and needs to be considered.

Do we examine supplier credentials regarding net-zero in our procurement decisions?

A policy note published in 2021 sets out the checks on suppliers that need to be carried out when UKRI is procuring equipment. This includes a requirement that the supplier should have a plan to reach net zero emissions for their UK operations by 2050, and should be able to provide their current emissions for the sources included in Scope 1 and 2 of the GHG Protocol, and a defined subset of Scope 3 emissions.

Project scope

What is in/out of scope for the project?

Further details can be found here.

How will the project impact on UKRI decisions?

Our project will be making recommendations based on the evidence that we gather. What happens next is likely to depend on the strength of evidence, the degree of community engagement that we can demonstrate, and the extent to which recommendations are well considered and practical, taking into account the complexity and distributed nature of UKRI decision making and their dependence on decisions made in Government.

Are you including UKRI IT staff, travel and offices in the scope?

Here we need to distinguish between DRI staff (who are running digital research infrastructures, like data centres) and IT staff (who are providing support for staff with their desktop or laptop computers and their office software).

The staff travel of DRI staff is in scope. The IT staff, on the other hand, are out of scope.

Universities have mid-level HPC that isn’t UKRI owned, but will be used on UKRI-funded projects. Are outputs from such projects counted in our carbon budget?
Yes. Projects like this will be counted in terms of what UKRI is responsible for.

Different institutions obviously have their own policy towards net zero and we’re not necessarily going to be collecting a detailed budget from everybody for everything they run, but we will want to have some idea of what their policies are and have consistency.

We want to avoid, as far as possible, having different policies in different institutions and having researchers having to jump between one policy and another depending on where they’re working.

At what point do embodied emissions get considered?

Embodied emissions are the emissions associated with the supply chain. The project will consider these right from the start.

For the data centres, it appears that this is a not the largest part of the emissions but it’s still potentially significant - somewhere between 10 and 30%, so it is important.

We need to consider it now because it’s quite a challenging problem. We don’t have a huge direct influence on the factories that are incurring these emissions, but we need to work on this.

What is the expected balance between (1) moving to net-zero sources, and (2) reducing consumption / increasing power efficiency?

We think this is about even - but that’s based on not having enough evidence to make a more detailed estimate. There should also be an option (3) for carbon offsetting and capture. The potential role of offsetting and capture is also very unclear.

Moving to net zero sources is dependent, to a certain extent, on what happens in the UK as a whole and in the supply change. Nationally there is an objective for the national grid to go to net zero, but it is not clear whether there is a strategy in place to make it happen. There is a clear will, but it will require many organisations to play a part, and we need to look at what part UKRI can play.

Community involvement

How can I keep up to date with the projects progress?

We have a mailing list - please contact us if you wish to be added.

How can we help with the literature survey, and provide pointers to related work and projects?

There are further details about this on the Get involved webpage.

General questions about net zero / definitions and UKRI’s ambition

NOTE: it is important to realise that we are a UKRI funded project, but we do not speak on behalf of UKRI. The project will produce evidence and advice to feed into the UKRI decision making process. These answers are based on the project teams opinions/experience so far.

How is the project/UKRI defining net zero?

Neither the project nor UKRI has a fixed idea about the definition of Net Zero. There are several credible approaches to defining emissions, and a broad range of approaches to defining carbon offsets and capture.

Our project will need to recommend a definition based on the evidence we collect, including evidence of consistency with the declared objective of a transition to a sustainable society. The meaning of net zero in a global sense is clear, but there are many different ways of breaking that simple global balance down into the components which are the responsibility of different institutions.

The ultimate aim is to avoid dependency on fossil fuel, and to do so in a way which complies with other sustainability goals and provides constructive leadership for society as a whole.

Apple, Facebook & Microsoft all have Net Zero 2030 targets including their buildings, travel etc. Why should UKRI need ten years longer?

As noted in another FAQ, Net Zero means different things to different people. There are differences both in the way that the carbon emissions attributed to an organisation are calculated and in the way that offsetting and carbon capture is estimated.

For UKRI, we need to be sure that the approach that we follow does have a solid scientific and evidential basis - that is the purpose of this project.

For instance, many organisations consider electricity purchased on a so-called green-tariff to have zero carbon footprint. This is not, however, the view of the National Grid who supply the electricity. At this point we can only note that there is disagreement. By the end of the project we will have recommendations for action.

Given UKRI settlements, will the transition to net-zero be included in an uplift in R&I funding from BEIS?

The question of the level of funding allocated by the UK Government to R&I in general, and to the UKRI in particular, is not directly linked to any uplift. If the economy recovers, we may expect an uplift, but we need to plan for net-zero whatever level of funding is awarded. The role of this project is to find pathways to net-zero which minimise negative impacts on the budget and the user communities.