The UKRI Net Zero Digital Research Infrastructure Scoping Project will:

  • Collect evidence to inform UKRI Digital Research Infrastructure investment decisions.
  • Provide as recommendations for UKRI and their community with an outline roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality in their Digital Research Infrastructure by 2040 or sooner.
  • Enable UKRI to play a positive and leading role in the national and global transition to a sustainable economy.

The infrastructure elements in scope include all the UKRI owned and majority funded digital research infrastructure. The role of connected devices will also be considered, both in the context of the carbon footprint that users need to incur to connect to the infrastructure and as an indication of the direction and speed of technological change.

In addition to the roles of operator, procurer and service provider alluded to above, UKRI and their research community have a critical role as influencers and innovators. As a customer for computer hardware UKRI has a tiny leverage in the global market, but the influence of UKRI science on national and global attitudes to sustainability in general, and the net zero target in particular, is immense.

This project does not aim to place limits on researchers, but to develop a framework which can enhance the contribution that the community makes to a huge societal challenge. Just as national infrastructure investments are considered in the context of expected return on investment, we will consider the expected benefits of resources, including potentially limited power and offsetting capacity, allocated to digital research infrastructure.

As substantial component of the current carbon footprint of the digital research infrastructure is electricity. We will explore measures to reduce electricity usage as well as measures aimed at procuring electricity with a low or zero carbon footprint. The manufacture of hardware also has a substantial footprint, and for laptops and phones this is the dominant component of the footprint. For well-run data centres, on the other hand, the electricity use tends to dominate, but the footprint of manufacturing, which includes both electricity to drive factories and emissions of volatiles released in integrated circuit manufacture.

Measures to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will also be considered, as a means to balancing any unavoided emissions.

With the role of UKRI as an influencer in mind, all aspect of the project will be considered from a broad perspective, looking at risks that policy intended to reduce emissions can often simply displace it.

We will look at the part that changes in behaviour can play in delivering net zero emissions, and at the experience in other areas of delivering change in the research culture to adapt to societal objectives and expectations.

The net zero target clearly raises transdisciplinary, transgenerational and transnational issues.

The evidence collected will take various forms, including direct quantitative evidence collected from current facilities, an extensive literature review, community workshops, proof-of-concept studies and other forms of expert consultation.