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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

His Majesty The King arrives at the Whittle Laboratory

10 May 2023 - His Majesty The King yesterday broke ground on the New Whittle Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, as the first public engagement following Their Majesties’ Coronation. 

CISL’s Chief Systems Change Officer, Eliot Whittington, and Emeritus Founder Director, Dame Polly Courtice, joined representatives from the University, UK government and aviation sector to open the new £58 million facility, which will be the world’s leading disruptive innovation laboratory for net zero aviation and energy. Its mission is to halve the time to develop key technologies, dramatically increasing the number of commercially viable options available by the late 2030s.

The new facility will focus on the critical early lifecycle stages of emerging net zero flight and energy systems technologies, working at the interface of cutting-edge science and its emerging engineering application. It will do this in partnership with companies around the world trying to solve these challenges, including Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Siemens Energy and Boeing.


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, with the right skills, tools, culture, and working environment to solve complex multidisciplinary challenges. 

Alongside the breaking ground event for the New Whittle Laboratory, senior figures from government and industry gathered for an international roundtable as part of a collaborative initiative led by the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This presented insights based on global aviation systems modelling capabilities developed through the Aviation Impact Accelerator - a project led by CISL alongside the University of Cambridge’s Whittle Laboratory. 

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 and co-lead of the Aviation Impact Accelerator, 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 its emerging engineering application, 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, the 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."

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."

Read full university article: The King breaks ground on Cambridge’s New Whittle Laboratory

Read more about the Aviation Impact Accelerator


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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