King Charles III at the groundbreaking for the New Whittle Laboratory

His Majesty The King visited the University of Cambridge today, in his first public engagement following the Coronation.

His Majesty was in Cambridge to break ground on the New Whittle Laboratory, where he also met with staff and researchers, leaders from the aviation industry and senior government representatives.

The New Whittle Laboratory, a £58 million facility, will be the leading global centre for net-zero aviation and energy. Its mission is to halve the time to develop key technologies to support a sustainable aviation industry.

Alongside the ground-breaking, senior figures from government and industry gathered for an international roundtable as part of an initiative led by Cambridge and MIT. This will present insights based on global aviation systems modelling capabilities developed through the Aviation Impact Accelerator, a project led by the Whittle Laboratory and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Today, it typically takes six to eight years to develop a new technology to a point where it can be considered for commercial deployment in the aerospace and energy sectors, recent trials in the Whittle Laboratory have shown this timeframe can be accelerated by breaking down barriers that exist between academia and industry.

The New Whittle Laboratory will incorporate the Bennett Innovation Laboratory – made possible through a philanthropic gift from the Peter Bennett Foundation – to bring together a critical mass of talent, giving them the right skills, tools, culture and working environment to solve complex multidisciplinary challenges. It will also be home to the UK’s National Centre for Propulsion and Power, built around a fast feedback model pioneered in Formula One, to cut the time to develop technologies from years to months.

Participating organisations in the roundtable included the UK Government, UK Aerospace Technology Institute, the US Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, EU Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking, Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and the Sustainable Markets Initiative.

As The Prince of Wales, His Majesty previously visited the Whittle Laboratory in January 2020, and March 2022, to encourage the acceleration of sustainable aviation, as well as hosting an industry roundtable in February 2020 in London with the Sustainable Markets Initiative and World Economic Forum to explore solutions for decarbonising air travel.

Professor Rob Miller, Director of the Whittle Laboratory, said:

“We need to completely transform the innovation landscape in the aviation and energy sectors if we are to reach net zero by 2050. The new Whittle Lab has been designed as a disruptive innovation laboratory targeting the critical early stages in the lifecycles of technologies, where there are windows of opportunity to translate scientific strengths into global technological and industrial leadership.

“The Lab is designed to work at the intersection of cutting-edge science and emerging engineering applications, providing fast feedback between the two, and dramatically cutting the time to deliver zero-emission technologies.”

Grant Shapps, the UK Government’s Energy Security Secretary, said:

"The UK is leading a revolution in aviation, looking to new technologies to cut emissions.

"Having established the Jet Zero Council three years ago by bringing together government, industry and academia, I strongly welcome the Whittle Laboratory being at the forefront of that endeavour today.

"This will further help the best minds from the fields of energy and aviation push ever-further and faster with the latest innovations in order to solve the problem of environmentally friendly and affordable flying."

Mark Harper, the UK Government’s Transport Secretary, said:

“Having already invested £165 million into the production of sustainable aviation fuels, this Government is determined to harness the economic benefits of flying while supporting industry and academia to create cleaner skies for the future.”

“The breaking ground of Whittle Laboratory is great news for the UK's world-leading aviation sector, representing another step towards the UK hitting our Jet Zero goals.”

Peter Bennett, University of Cambridge alumnus, philanthropist and founder of the Peter Bennett Foundation, said:

“To tackle the most complex challenges, we need to take a whole systems approach, where innovative technologies can be explored within the context of the realities that may impact their roll out. Rigorous testing using models such as the Aviation Impact Accelerator expedites the process of innovation and implementation.

“We need new ways to work together at speed, which is why the Bennett Innovation Lab will bring together global experts from government, industry and academia, enabling  radical collaboration. I believe by using Cambridge’s convening power, this can make a real difference, fast.”

Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer at Rolls-Royce, said:  

“The Whittle Laboratory and Rolls-Royce have worked together for 50 years. Over this time the partnership has delivered hundreds of technologies into Rolls-Royce products. Deep technology partnerships like this are critical if the UK is to maintain its role as a science superpower and to create high value jobs in the UK. The New Whittle Laboratory offers an exciting opportunity to raise this ambition by bringing together cutting-edge science and engineering application in one building with the aim of meeting the challenge of net zero flight by 2050.”

Jim Hileman, Vice President and Chief Engineer, Sustainability and Future Mobility at Boeing said:

"Boeing's partnership with the University of Cambridge is central to the effort of making aviation carbon neutral. As well as helping us to find technology solutions, it is bringing together different companies and academic disciplines from across the sector to drive change at the system level. We are excited by the way in which the New Whittle Laboratory has been designed to break down silos, bringing together a wide range of disciplines to take on the most challenging net zero aviation problems.”

Eisaku Ito, Chief Technology Officer at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said:

“At Mitsubishi Heavy Industries we have a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, through our Mission Net Zero initiative. But we know that we can only reach this through accelerating the pace of innovation, and scaling up the development of net zero technologies. We have benefited from a strategic research partnership with the Whittle Laboratory since the 1980s, so we are excited to see work begin on this new facility that will become an important global centre for collaboration and disruptive innovation.

“We look forward to continuing our relationship with the Whittle Laboratory over the coming decades, and we want our engineers to think of the new Lab as their European home – a unique environment where they can participate in a culture that brings together the best global ideas, expertise, software, tools and testing facilities that can help solve the challenge of climate change.”

For more information on energy-related research in Cambridge, please visit Energy IRC, which brings together Cambridge’s research knowledge and expertise, in collaboration with global partners, to create solutions for a sustainable and resilient energy landscape for generations to come. 

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