Author: Dr. Jemma L. Rowlandson (University of Bristol). 

Topic: Achieving carbon-neutral aviation by 2050.  

Tool type: Teaching. 

Relevant disciplines: Chemical; Aerospace; Mechanical; Environmental; Energy.  

Keywords: Design and innovation; Conflicts of interest; Ethics; Regulatory compliance; Stakeholder engagement; Environmental impact; AHEP; Sustainability; Higher education; Pedagogy; Assessment. 
Sustainability competency: Systems thinking; Anticipatory; Critical thinking; Integrated problem-solving; Strategic; Collaboration.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

Related SDGs: SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy); SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure); SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production); SDG 13 (Climate Action). 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: More real-world complexity; Active pedagogies and mindset development; Authentic assessment.

Educational aim: Apply interdisciplinary engineering knowledge to a real-world sustainability challenge in aviation, foster ethical reasoning and decision-making with regards to environmental impact, and develop abilities to collaborate and communicate with a diverse range of stakeholders. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 


Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study provides students an opportunity to explore the role of hydrogen fuel in the aviation industry. Considerable investments have been made in researching and developing hydrogen as a potential clean and sustainable energy source, particularly for hydrogen-powered aircraft. Despite the potential for hydrogen to be a green and clean fuel there are lingering questions over the long-term sustainability of hydrogen and whether technological advancements can progress rapidly enough to significantly reduce global carbon dioxide emissions. The debate around this issue is rich with diverse perspectives and a variety of interests to consider. Through this case study, students will apply their engineering expertise to navigate this complex problem and examine the competing interests involved.  

This case is presented in parts, each focusing on a different sustainability issue, and with most parts incorporating technical content. Parts may be used in isolation, or may be used to build up the complexity of the case throughout a series of lessons.  

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 


Supporting resources:  


Learning and teaching resources: 

Hydrogen fundamentals resources: 

We recommend encouraging the use of sources from a variety of stakeholders. Encourage students to find their own, but some examples are included below: 


Pre-Session Work: 

Students should be provided with an overview of the properties of hydrogen gas and the principles underlying the hydrogen economy: production, storage and transmission, and application. There are several free and available sources for this purpose (refer to the Hydrogen Fundamentals Resources above). 



At Airbus, we believe hydrogen is one of the most promising decarbonisation technologies for aviation. This is why we consider hydrogen to be an important technology pathway to achieve our ambition of bringing a low-carbon commercial aircraft to market by 2035.” – Airbus, 2024 

As indicated in the industry quote above, hydrogen is a growing area of research interest for aviation companies to decarbonise their fleet. In this case study, you are put in the role of working as an engineering consultant and your customer is a multinational aerospace corporation. They are keen to meet their government issued targets of reducing carbon emissions to reach net zero by 2050 and your consultancy team has been tasked with assessing the feasibility of powering a zero-emission aircraft using hydrogen. The key areas your customer is interested in are: 


Part one: The aviation landscape 

Air travel connects the world, enabling affordable and reliable mass transportation between continents. Despite massive advances in technology and infrastructure to produce more efficient aircraft and reduce passenger fuel consumption, carbon emissions have doubled since 2019 and are equivalent to 2.5 % of global CO2 emissions.  



Your customer is interested in the feasibility of hydrogen for aviation fuel. However, there is a debate within the management team over the sustainability of hydrogen. As the lead engineering consultant, you must guide your customer in making an ethical and sustainable decision.  

Hydrogen is a potential energy carrier which has a high energy content, making it a promising fuel for aviation. Green hydrogen is produced from water and is therefore potentially very clean. However, globally most hydrogen is currently made from fossil fuels with an associated carbon footprint. Naturally occurring as a gas, the low volumetric density makes it difficult to transport and add complications with storage and transportation. 



Part two: Hydrogen production 

Hydrogen is naturally abundant but is often found combined with other elements in various forms such as hydrocarbons like methane (CH4) and water (H2O). Methods have been developed to extract hydrogen from these compounds. It is important to remember that hydrogen is an energy carrier and not an energy source; it must be generated from other primary energy sources (such as wind and solar) converting and storing energy in the form of hydrogen.  



The ideal scenario is to produce green hydrogen via electrolysis where water (H2O) is split using electricity into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2). This makes green hydrogen potentially completely green and clean if the process uses electricity from renewable sources. The overall chemical reaction is shown below: 

However, the use of water—a critical resource—as a feedstock for green hydrogen, especially in aviation, raises significant ethical concerns. Your customer’s management team is divided on the potential impact of this practice on global water scarcity, which has been exacerbated by climate change. You have been tasked with assessing the feasibility of using green hydrogen in aviation for your client. Your customer has chosen their London to New York route (3,500 nmi), one of their most popular, as a test-case. 



Despite its potential for green production, globally the majority of hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels – termed grey hydrogen. One of your team members has proposed using grey hydrogen as an interim solution to bridge the transition to green hydrogen, in order for the company to start developing the required hydrogen-related infrastructure at airports. They argue that carbon capture and storage technology could be used to reduce carbon emissions from grey hydrogen while still achieving the goal of decarbonisation. Hydrogen from fossil fuels with an additional carbon capture step is known as blue hydrogen. 

However, this suggestion has sparked a heated debate within the management team. While acknowledging the potential to address the immediate concerns of generating enough hydrogen to establish the necessary infrastructure and procedures, many team members argued that it would be a contradictory approach. They highlighted the inherent contradiction of utilising fossil fuels, the primary driver of climate change, to achieve decarbonisation. They emphasised the importance of remaining consistent with the ultimate goal of transitioning away from fossil fuels altogether and reducing overall carbon emissions. Your expertise is now sought to weigh these options and advise the board on the best course of action. 



Part three: Hydrogen storage 

Despite an impressive gravimetric energy density (the energy stored per unit mass of fuel) hydrogen has the lowest gas density and the second-lowest boiling point of all known chemical fuels. These unique properties pose challenges for storage and transportation, particularly in the constrained spaces of an aircraft.  



As the lead engineering consultant, you have been tasked with providing expert advice on viable hydrogen storage options for aviation. Your customer has again chosen their London to New York route (3,500 nmi) as a test-case because it is one of their most popular, transatlantic routes. They want to know if hydrogen storage can be effectively managed for this route as it could set a precedent for wider adoption for their other long-haul flights. The plane journey from London to New York is estimated to require around 15,000 kg of hydrogen (or use the quantity estimated previously estimated in Part 2 – see Appendix for example).  



Part four: Emissions and environmental impact 

In Part four, we delve deeper into the environmental implications of using hydrogen as a fuel in aviation with a focus on emissions and their impacts across the lifecycle of a hydrogen plane. Aircraft can be powered using either direct combustion of hydrogen in gas turbines or by reacting hydrogen in a fuel cell to produce electricity that drives a propeller. As the lead engineering consultant, your customer has asked you to choose between hydrogen combustion in gas turbines or the reaction of hydrogen in fuel cells. The management team is divided on the environmental impacts of both methods, with some emphasising the technological readiness and efficiency of combustion and others advocating for the cleaner process of fuel cell reaction.  



Both combustion of hydrogen in an engine and reaction of hydrogen in a fuel cell will produce water as a by-product. The management team are concerned over the effect of using hydrogen on the formation of contrails. Contrails are clouds of water vapour produced by aircraft that have a potential contribution to global warming but the extent of their impact is uncertain.  



So far we have considered each aspect of the hydrogen debate in isolation. However, it is important to consider the overall environmental impact of these stages as a whole. Choices made at each stage of the hydrogen cycle – generation, storage, usage – will collectively impact the overall environmental impact and sustainability of using hydrogen as an aviation fuel and demonstrates how interconnected our decisions can be.  



Part five: Hydrogen aviation stakeholders 

Hydrogen aviation is an area with multiple stakeholders with conflicting priorities. Understanding the perspectives of these key players is important when considering the feasibility of hydrogen in the aviation sector.   



Your consultancy firm is hosting a debate for the aviation industry in order to help them make a decision around hydrogen-based technologies. You have invited representatives from consumer groups, the UK government, Environmental NGOs, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers.  



Stakeholder Key priorities and considerations
Airline & Aerospace Manufacturer 
  • Cost efficiency (fuel, labour, fleet maintenance) – recovering from pandemic. 
  • Passenger experience (commercial & freight). 
  • Develop & maintain global supply chains. 
  • Safety, compliance and operational reliability. 
  • Financial responsibility to employees and investors. 
  • Need government assurances before making big capital investments. 
UK Government 
  • Achieve net zero targets by 2050 
  • Promote economic growth and job creation (still recovering from pandemic). 
  • Fund research and innovation to put their country’s technology ahead. 
  • Fund renewable infrastructure to encourage industry investment. 
Environmental NGOs 
  • Long-term employment for aviation sector. 
  • Demand a sustainable future for aviation to ensure this – right now, not in 50 years. 
  • Standards and targets for industry and government and accountability if not met. 
  • Some NGOs support drastic cuts to flying. 
  • Want to raise public awareness over sustainability of flying. 
  • Environmentally aware (understand the need to reduce carbon emissions). 
  • Also benefit greatly from flying (tourism, commercial shipping, etc.). 
  • Safety and reliability of aircraft & processes. 
  • Cost effectiveness – want affordable service

Appendix: Example calculations 

There are multiple methods for approaching these calculations. The steps shown below are just one example for illustrative purposes.  


Part two: Hydrogen production 

Challenge: Estimate the volume of water required for a hydrogen-powered aircraft.   

Assumptions around the hydrogen production process, aircraft, and fuel requirement can be given to students or researched as a separate task. In this example we assume: 


Example estimation: 

1. Estimate the energy requirement for a mid-size jet 

No current hydrogen-fuelled aircraft exists, so we can use a kerosene-fuelled analogue. Existing aircraft that meet the requirements include the Boeing 767 or 747. The energy requirement is then: 


2. Estimate the hydrogen requirement 

Assuming a hydrogen plane has the same fuel requirement:


3. Estimate the volume of water required 

Assuming all hydrogen is produced from the electrolysis of water: 

Electrolysis reaction:

For this reaction, we know one mole of water produces one mole of hydrogen. We need to calculate the moles for 20,000 kg of hydrogen: 




With a 1:1 molar ratio, we can then calculate the mass of water: 

This assumes an electrolyser efficiency of 100%. Typical efficiency values are under 80%, which would yield: 


Challenge: Is it feasible to power the UK aviation fleet with water? 


The total energy requirement for UK aviation can be given to students or set as a research task.  

Estimation can follow a similar procedure to the above. 

Multiple methods for validating and assessing the feasibility of this quantity of water. For example, the UK daily water consumption is 14 billion litres. The water requirement estimated above is < 1 % of this total daily water consumption, a finding supported by FlyZero.  


Part three: Hydrogen storage 

Challenge: Is it feasible to store 20,000 kg of hydrogen in an aircraft? 

There are multiple methods of determining the feasibility of storage volume. As example is given below. 


1. Determining the storage volume 

The storage volume is dependent on the storage method used. Density values associated with different storage techniques can be research or given to students (included in Table 2). The storage volume required can be calculated from the mass of hydrogen and density of storage method, example in Table 2.  

Table 2: Energy densities of various hydrogen storage methods 


2. Determining available aircraft volume 

A straightforward method is to compare the available volume on an aircraft with the hydrogen storage volume required. Aircraft volumes can be given or researched by students. Examples: 

This assumes hydrogen tanks are integrated into an existing aircraft design. Liquid hydrogen can feasibly fit into an existing design, though actual volume will be larger due to space/constraint requirements and additional infrastructure (pipes, fittings, etc) for the tanks. Tank size can be compared to conventional kerosene tanks and a discussion encouraged over where in the plane hydrogen tanks would need to be (conventional liquid fuel storage is in the wings of aircraft, this is not possible for liquid storage tanks due to their shape and infrastructure storage is inside the fuselage). Another straightforward method for storage feasibility is modelling the hydrogen volume as a simple cylinder and comparing to the dimensions of a suitable aircraft.  


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 
To view a plain text version of this resource, click here to download the PDF.

Author: Dr Irene Josa (University College London). The author would like to acknowledge Colin Church (IOM3) who provided valuable feedback during the development of this case.

Topic: Materials sourcing and circularity.

Engineering disciplines: Materials engineering; Manufacturing; Environmental engineering; Construction.

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Risk.

Professional situations: Conflicts of interest; Public health and safety; Legal implications; Whistleblowing; Power; Corporate social responsibility.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Gaining ethical knowledge. Knowing the sets of rules, theories, concepts, frameworks, and statements of duty, rights, or obligations that inform ethical attitudes, behaviours, and practices.


Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves an engineer responsible for verifying the source of recycled construction material to ensure it is not contaminated. The case is presented in three parts. Part one focuses on the environmental, professional, and social contexts and may be used in isolation to allow students to explore both micro-ethical and macro-ethical concerns. Parts two and three bring in a dilemma about public information and communication and allows students to consider their positions and potential responses. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:


Learning and teaching resources:


Government site:


Journal articles:

Professional organisations:


Dilemma – Part one:

Charlie is a junior environmental engineer who started working at Circle Mat after graduating. Circle Mat is a construction products company that takes pride in using recycled materials from waste in their products, such as mortars and concretes. In fact, Circle Mat was recently nominated by the National Sustainability Association in the prize for the most innovative and sustainable production chains.

Charlie’s role is to ensure that the quality standards of the recycled waste used in the products are met. She is sent a report every two weeks from the factories receiving the waste and she checks the properties of this waste. While she is also supposed to visit all the factories once a month, her direct supervisor, Sam, advised her to visit only those factories where data shows that there are problems with the quality. While it is Charlie’s responsibility to verify the quality and to create the factory visit plan, she trusts her line manager as to how best approach her work.

Among all the factories with which they are working, the factory in Barretton has always had the highest quality standards, and since it is very far from where Charlie is based, she has postponed for months her visit to that factory.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Charlie is responsible for checking the quality from the data she receives, but what about the quality/reliability of the data? Where does her responsibility begin and end? What ethical guidance, codes, or frameworks can help her decide?

2. Activity: Research the issue of asbestos, including current science, potential risks, and legal implications.

3. Discussion: Macroethical context – What is circularity, and how does it relate to climate goals or environmental practice?


Dilemma: Part two:

After several months, she finally goes to the town where the factory is located. Before getting to the factory, she stops for a coffee at the town’s café. There, she enquires of the waiter about the impacts of the factory on the town. The waiter expresses his satisfaction and explains that since Circle Mat started operations there, the town has become much more prosperous.

When Charlie reaches the factory, she notices a pile of waste that, she assumes, is the one that is being used as recycled aggregate in concrete. Having a closer look, she sees that it is waste from demolition of a building, with some insulation walls, concrete slabs and old pipes. At that moment, the head of the factory arrives and kindly shows Charlie around.

At the end of the visit, Charlie asks about the pile, and the head says that it is indeed demolition waste from an old industrial building. By the description, Charlie remembers that there are some buildings in the region that still contain asbestos, so asks whether the demolition material could potentially have asbestos. To Charlie’s surprise, the head reacts aggressively and says that the visit is over.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Use an environmental and social Life Cycle Assessment tool to assess the environmental and social impacts that the decision that Charlie makes might have.

2. Discussion: Map possible courses of action regarding the approach that Charlie could adopt when the factory head tries to shut down the visit. Discuss which is the best approach and why. Some starting questions would be: What should Charlie do? What feels wrong about this situation?

3. Discussion: if she reports her suspicions to her manager, what data or evidence can she present? Should she say anything at all at this point?


Dilemma – Part three:

In the end, Charlie decides not to mention anything, and after writing her report she leaves Barretton. A few days later, Circle Mat is announced to be the winner of the prize by the National Sustainability Association. Circle Mat organises a celebration event to be carried out in Barretton. During the event, Charlie discovers that Circle Mat’s CEO is a relative of the mayor of Barretton.

She is not sure if there really is asbestos in the waste, and also she does not know if other factories might be behaving in the same way. Nonetheless, other junior engineers are responsible for the other factories, so she doesn’t have access to the information.

Some days after the event, she receives a call from a journalist who says that they have discovered that the company is using waste from buildings that contain asbestos. The journalist is preparing an article to uncover the secret and wants to interview her. They ensure that, if she wants, her identity will be kept anonymous. They also mention that, if she refuses to participate, they will collect information from other sources in the company.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Technical integration related to measuring contaminants in waste products used for construction materials.

2. Discussion: What ethical issues can be identified in this scenario? Check how ethical principles of the construction sector inform the ethical issues that may be present, and the solutions that might be possible.

3. Discussion: What interpersonal and workplace dynamics might affect the approach taken to resolve this situation? 

4. Discussion: Would you and could you take the interview with the journalist? Should Charlie? Why or why not?

5. Activity: In the case of deciding to take the interview, prepare the notes you would take to the interview.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Dr J.L. Rowlandson (University of Bristol).

Topic: Home heating in the energy transition. 

Engineering disciplines: Chemical; Civil; Mechanical; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Social responsibility. 

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Conflicts of interest; Quality of work; Conflicts with leadership/management; Legal implication. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Becoming Ethically Sensitive: being broadly cognizant of ethical issues and having the ability to see how these issues might affect others. 


Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study considers not only the environmental impacts of a clean technology (the heat pump) but also the social and economic impacts on the end user. Heat pumps form an important part of the UK government’s net-zero plan. Our technical knowledge of heat pump performance can be combined with the practical aspects of implementing and using this technology. However, students need to weigh the potential carbon savings against the potential economic impact on the end user, and consider whether current policy incentivises consumers to move towards clean heating technologies.  

This case study offers students an opportunity to practise and improve their skills in making estimates and assumptions. It also enables students to learn and practise the fundamentals of energy pricing and link this to the increasing issue of fuel poverty. Fundamental thermodynamics concepts, such as the second law, can also be integrated into this study.  

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in six parts. If desired, a teacher can use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Parts two to six develop and complicate the concepts presented in the Summary and Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities, as desired. 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 


Learning and teaching resources: 

Open access textbooks: 

Journal articles: 

Educational institutions: 


Government reports: 

Other organisations: 

Stakeholder mapping: 


Summary – Heating systems and building requirements: 

You are an engineering consultant working for a commercial heat pump company. The company handles both the manufacture and installation of heat pumps. You have been called in by a county council to advise and support a project to decarbonise both new and existing housing stock. This includes changes to social housing (either directly under the remit of the council or by working in partnership with a local housing association) and also to private housing, encouraging homeowners and landlords to move towards net zero emissions. In particular, the council is interested in the installation of clean heating technologies with a focus on heat pumps, which it views as the most technologically-ready solution. Currently most heating systems rely on burning natural gas in a boiler to provide heat. By contrast, a heat-pump is a device that uses electricity to extract heat from the air or ground and transfer it to the home, avoiding direct emission of carbon dioxide.  

The council sets your first task of the project as assessing the feasibility of replacing the existing gas boiler systems with heat pumps in social housing. You are aware that there are multiple stakeholders involved in this process you need to consider, in addition to evaluating the suitability of the housing stock for heat pump installation.  


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Why might the council have prioritised retrofitting the social housing stock with heat pumps as the first task of the project? How might business and ethical concerns affect this decision?  

2. Activity: Use stakeholder mapping to determine who are the main stakeholders in this project and what are their main priorities? In which areas will these stakeholders have agreements or disagreements? What might their values be, and how do those inform priorities?  

3. Discussion: What key information about the property is important for choosing a heating system? What does the word feasibility mean and how would you define it for this project? 

4. Activity: Research the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC):  what are the main factors that determine the energy performance of a building?  

5. Discussion: What do you consider to be an ‘acceptable’ EPC rating? Is the EPC rating a suitable measure of energy efficiency? Who should decide, and how should the rating be determined?  


Technical pre-reading for Part one: 

It is useful to introduce the thermodynamic principles on which heat pumps operate in order to better understand the advantages and limitations when applying this engineering technology in a real-world situation. A heat pump receives heat (from the air, ground, or water) and work (in the form of electricity to a compressor) and then outputs the heat to a hot reservoir (the building you are heating). We recommend covering: 

An online, open-source textbook that covers both topics is Applications of Thermodynamics – Heat Pumps & Refrigerators. 


Dilemma – Part one – Considering heat pump suitability: 

You have determined who the main stakeholders are and how to define the project feasibility. A previous investigation commissioned by the council into the existing housing stock, and one of the key drivers for them to initiate this project, has led them to believe that most properties will not require significant retrofitting to make them suitable for heat pump installation.  


Optional STOP for question and activities: 

1. Activity: Research how a conventional gas boiler central heating system works. How does a heat pump heating system differ? What heat pump technologies are available? What are the design considerations for installing a heat pump in an existing building? 


Dilemma – Part two – Inconsistencies: 

You spot some inconsistencies in the original investigation that appear to have been overlooked. On your own initiative, you decide to perform a more thorough investigation into the existing housing stock within the local authority. Your findings show that most of the dwellings were built before 1980 and less than half have an EPC rating of C or higher. The poor energy efficiency of the existing housing stock causes a potential conflict of interest for you: there are a significant number of properties that would require additional retrofitting to ensure they are suitable for heat pump installation. Revealing this information to the council at this early stage could cause them to pull out of the project entirely, causing your company to lose a significant client. You present these findings to your line manager who wants to suppress this information until the company has a formal contract in place with the council.  


Optional STOP for question and activities: 

1. Discussion: How should you respond to your line manager? Is there anyone else you can go to for advice? Do you have an obligation to reveal this information to your client (the council) when it is they who overlooked information and misinterpreted the original study? 

2. Activity: An example of a factor that causes a poor EPC rating is how quickly the property loses heat. A common method for significantly reducing heat loss in a home is to improve the insulation. Estimate the annual running cost of using an air-source heat pump in a poorly-insulated versus a well-insulated home to look at the potential financial impact for the tenant (example approach shown in the Appendix, Task A). 

3. Discussion: What recommendations would you make to the council to ensure the housing is heat-pump ready? Would your recommendation change for a new-build property? 


Dilemma – Part three – Impact of energy costs on the consumer: 

Your housing stock report was ultimately released to the council and they have decided to proceed, though for a more limited number of properties. The tenants of these dwellings are important stakeholders who are ultimately responsible for the energy costs of their properties. A fuel bill is made up of the wholesale cost of energy, network costs to transport it, operating costs, taxes, and green levies. Consumers pay per unit of energy used (called the unit cost) and also a daily fixed charge that covers the cost of delivering energy to a home regardless of the amount of energy used (called the standing charge). In the UK, currently the price of natural gas is the main driver behind the price of electricity; the unit price of electricity is typically three to four times the price of gas. 

Your next task is to consider if replacing the gas boiler in a property with a heat pump system will have a positive or negative effect on the running costs.  


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Estimate the annual running cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler (see Appendix Task B for an example approach). 

2. Discussion: Energy prices are currently rising and have seen drastic changes in the UK over the past year. The lifetime of a new heat pump system is around 20 years. How would rising gas and electric prices affect the tenant? Does this impact the feasibility of using a gas boiler versus a heat pump? How can engineering knowledge and expertise help inform pricing policies? 


Dilemma – Part four – Tenants voice concerns: 

After a consultation, some of the current tenants whose homes are under consideration for heat pump installation have voiced concerns. The council is planning to install air-source heat pumps due to their reduced capital cost compared to a ground-source heat pump. The tenants are concerned that the heat pump will not significantly reduce their fuel bills in the winter months (when it is most needed) and instead could increase their bills if the unit price and standing charge for electricity continue to increase. They want a guarantee from the council that their energy bills will not be adversely affected. 


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Why would air-source heat pumps be less effective in winter? What are the potential effects of increased energy bills on the tenants? How much input should the tenants have on the heating system in their rented property? 

2. Discussion: Do the council have any responsibility if the installation does result in an increased energy bill in the winter for their tenants? Do you and your company have any responsibility to the tenants?  


Dilemma – Part five – The council consultation: 

The council has hosted an open consultation for private homeowners within the area that you are involved in. They want to encourage owners of private dwellings to adopt low-carbon technologies and are interested in learning about the barriers faced and what they can do to encourage the adoption of low carbon-heating technologies. The ownership of houses in the local area is similar to the overall UK demographic: around 20% of dwellings are in the social sector (owned either by the local authority or a housing association), 65% are privately owned, and 15% are privately rented.  


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Estimate the lifetime cost of running an air-source heat pump and ground-source heat pump versus a natural gas boiler. Include the infrastructure costs associated with installation of the heating system (see Appendix Task C for an example approach). This can be extended to include the impact of increasing energy prices.  

2. Activity: Research the policies, grants, levies, and schemes available at local and national levels that aim to encourage uptake of net zero heating. 

3. Discussion: From your estimations and research, how suitable are the current schemes? What recommendations would you make to improve the uptake of zero carbon heating? 


Dilemma – Part six – Recommendations: 

Energy costs and legislation are important drivers for encouraging homeowners and landlords to adopt clean heating technologies. There is a need to weigh up potential cost savings with the capital cost associated with installing a new heat system. Local and national policies, grants, levies, and bursaries are examples of tools used to fund and support adoption of renewable technologies. Currently, an environmental and social obligations cost, known as the ‘green levies,’ are added to energy bills which contribute to a mixture of social and environmental energy policies (including, for example, renewable energy projects, discounts for low-income households, and energy efficiency improvements).  

Your final task is to think more broadly on encouraging the uptake of low-carbon heating systems in private dwellings (the majority of housing in the UK) and to make recommendations on how both councils locally and the government nationally can encourage uptake in order to reduce carbon emissions.  


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: In terms of green energy policy, where does the ethical responsibility lie –  with the consumer, the local government, or the national government?  

2. Discussion: Should the national Government set policies like the green levy that benefit the climate in the long-term but increase the cost of energy now?  

3. Discussion: As an employee of a private company, to what extent is the decarbonisation of the UK your problem? Do you or your company have a responsibility to become involved in policy? What are the advantages or disadvantages to yourself as an engineer?  



The three tasks that follow are designed to encourage students to practise and improve their zeroth order approximation skills (for example a back of the envelope calculation). Many simplifying assumptions can be made but they should be justified.  

Task A: Impact of insulation 

Challenge: Estimate the annual running cost for an air-source heat pump in a poorly insulated home. Compare to a well-insulated home.  

Base assumptions around the heat pump system and the property being heated can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume:  

Example estimation: 

1. Estimate the overall heat loss for a poorly- and well-insulated property.

Note: heat loss is greater in the poorly insulated building.


 2. Calculate the work input for the heat pump.  

Assumption: heat pump matches the heat loss to maintain a consistent temperature.

 Note: a higher work input is required in the poorly insulated building to maintain a stable temperature.


3. Determine the work input over a year. 

Assumption: heat pump runs for 8 hours per day for 365 days.


4. Determine the running cost 

For an electricity unit price of 33.8 p per kWh.


Note: running cost is higher for the poorly insulated building due to the higher work input required to maintain temperature. 


Task B: Annual running cost estimation 

Challenge: Estimate the annual running cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler.  

Base assumptions around the boiler system, heat pump system, and property can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume: 

Energy tariffs (correct at time of writing) for the domestic consumer including the energy price guarantee discount: 

Domestic energy tariffs 
Electric standing charge  51.0p per day 
Unit price of electricity  33.8p per kWh 
Gas standing charge  26.8p per kWh 
Unit price of gas  10.4p per kWh 


Example estimation: 

1. Calculate the annual power requirement for each case. 

Assumed heating requirement is 15,000 kWh for the year. 

2. Calculate the annual cost for each case: 

Note: the higher COP of the ground-source heat pump makes this the more favourable option (dependent on the fuel prices).  


Task C: Lifetime cost estimation  

Challenge: Estimate the total lifetime cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler.  

Base assumptions around the boiler system, heat pump system, and property can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume: 

Energy tariffs (correct at time of writing) for the domestic consumer including the energy price guarantee discount: 

Domestic energy tariffs 
Electric standing charge  51.0p per day 
Unit price of electricity  33.8p per kWh 
Gas standing charge  26.8p per kWh 
Unit price of gas  10.4p per kWh 


1. Calculate the lifetime running cost for each case.


2. Calculate the total lifetime cost for each case.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Diana Martin (Eindhoven University of Technology); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Topic:  Participatory approaches for engaging with a local community about the development of risky technologies. 

Engineering disciplines: Nuclear engineering; Energy; Chemical engineering. 

Ethical issues: Corporate Social Responsibility; Risk; Accountability; Respect for the Environment. 

Professional situations: Conflicts of interest; Public health and safety; Communication. 

Educational level: Advanced.  

Educational aim: Engaging in ethical judgement: reaching moral decisions and providing the rationale for those decisions.  


Learning and teaching notes:  

This case study involves an early career engineer tasked with leading the development of plans for the construction of the first nuclear plant in a region. The case can be customised by instructors when specifying the name of the region, as to whether the location of the case study corresponds to the location of the educational institution or if a more remote context is preferred. The case incorporates several components, including stakeholder mapping, participatory methods for assessing risk perception and community engagement, qualitative risk analysis, and policy-making.  

The case study asks students to identify and define an open-ended risk problem in engineering and develop a socially acceptable solution, on the basis of limited and possibly contradictory information and differing perspectives. Additionally, students can gain awareness of broader responsibilities of engineers in the development of risky technologies, as well as the role of engineers in public debates and community engagement related to the adoption or development of risky technologies. 

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two and Part three develop and complicate the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

 Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to:  


Learning and teaching resources: 

Journal articles: 

Community engagement organisations: 


Dilemma – Part one:

You are an early career engineer working in the civil nuclear industry for Ultra Nuclear. This is a major company overseeing the construction of new power stations that has a strong reputation as a leader in the field with no controversies associated with its activity. Indeed, you have been impressed with Ultra Nuclear’s vision that the transition to using more nuclear energy can significantly reduce carbon emissions, and their development of next-generation nuclear technologies. After two years of working on the strictly technical side of the business, you have been promoted to a project manager role which requires you to do more public engagement. Your manager has assigned your first major project which involves making the plans for the development of a new power plant.  


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Societal context – What is the context in which Ultra Nuclear operates? Identify the national and supranational policies and regulation in your country related to the adoption of nuclear energy. Reflect on the broader rationale given for the adoption of nuclear energy. Research the history of nuclear technological developments (including opposition and failures) in your country. When tracing the context, you may consider:

2. Discussion: Personal values – What is your initial position on the adoption of nuclear energy? What are the advantages and disadvantages that you see for the adoption of nuclear energy in your country? What alternatives to nuclear energy do you deem more suitable and why?

3. Discussion: Risk perception – How do you perceive the risk of nuclear energy? How do your family and friends see this risk? How is nuclear energy portrayed in the media? Do you see any differences in how people around you see these risks? Why do you think this is so?

4. Activity: Risk mapping – Using a qualitative risk matrix, map the risks of a nuclear power plant.


Dilemma – Part two:

As it happens, this will be the first power plant established in the region where you were born, and your manager counts on your knowledge of the local community in addition to your technical expertise. To complete your project successfully, you are expected to ensure community approval for the new nuclear power plant. In order to do this, you will have to do some research to understand different stakeholders and their positions.  


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Stakeholder mapping – Who are all the groups that are involved in the scenario? 

1.a. Activity: Read the article by Sven Ove Hansson, which puts forward a method for categorising stakeholders as risk-exposed, beneficiaries, or decision-makers (including overlaps of the three categories). Place each stakeholder group in one of these categories.

1.b. Discussion: Why are some groups risk-exposed, others beneficiaries, and others decision-makers? Why is it undesirable to have stakeholder groups solely in one of the categories? 

1.c. Discussion: What needs to change for some stakeholder groups to be not only in the category of risk-exposed, but also in the category of beneficiaries or decision-makers?  

2. Activity: Stakeholder mapping – How does each stakeholder group view nuclear energy? For each stakeholder group identified, research the arguments they put forward, their positions and preferences in regard to the adoption of nuclear energy. In addition to the stakeholder groups previously identified, you may consider:

For your research, you may consult the webpage of the stakeholder group (if it exists); any manifesto they present; mass media features (including interviews, podcasts, news items or editorials); flyers and posters. 

3. Discussion: How convincing are these arguments according to you? Do you see any contradictions between the arguments put forward by different groups? 

3.a. Discussion: Which group relies most on empirical data when presenting their position? Which stakeholders take the most extreme positions, according to you (radical either against or for nuclear energy), and why do you think this is so?  

3.b. Discussion: In groups of five students, rank the stakeholders from those that provide the most convincing to the least convincing arguments, then discuss these rankings in plenary. 

3.c. Roleplay (with students divided into groups): Each group is assigned a stakeholder, and gets to prepare and make the case for why their group is right, based on the empirical data and position put forward publicly by the group. The other groups grade on different criteria for how convincing the group is (such as 1. reliability of data, 2. rhetoric, 3. soundness of argument). 

4. Guest speaker activity: The instructor can invite as a guest speaker a representative of one of the stakeholder groups to talk with students about the theme of nuclear energy. Students can prepare a written reflection after the session on the topic of “What I learned about risks from the guest speaker” or “What I learned about my responsibility as a future engineer in regard to the adoption of nuclear energy.” 


Dilemma – Part three:

You arrive at the site of the intended power plant. You are received with mixed emotions. Although you are well liked and have many friends and relatives here, you are also warned that some residents are against the plans for the development of nuclear energy in the area. Several people with whom you’ve had informal chats have significant concerns about the power plant, and whether their health or safety will be negatively affected. At the same time, many people from the surrounding area do not yet know anything about the plans for building the nuclear site. In addition, in the immediate vicinity of the power plant site, the community hosts a small number of refugees who, having just arrived, are yet to be proficient in the language, and whose communication relies mostly on a translator. How will you ensure that this community is well informed of the plans for developing the power plant in their region and approves the plans of Ultra Nuclear? How will you engage with the community and towards what aims? 


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Research empirical data on the risk awareness and risk perception of public attitudes about nuclear energy, and sum up any findings that you find interesting or relevant for the case study. 

1.a. Discussion: According to you, is risk awareness and perception the same thing? How do they differ as concepts? Considering the research you just did, is there a relation between people’s risk awareness and perception? What does this imply? 

1.b Discussion: Do you identify any differences in the risk perception of the public (based on gender, age, geographical location, educational level)? Why do you think this is so?  

1.c. Discussion: Does the public see the same risks about nuclear energy as technical experts do? Why is this so? 

1.d. Activity: Read Sheila Jasanoff – The political science of risk perception. What is the key takeaway message for you?

2. Group activity: Compose a survey to understand the risk awareness and risk perception of members of the local community.

2.a. Discussion: What are the key questions for the survey? 

2.b. Discussion: How will you distribute the survey and to how many people? 

2.c. Discussion: Do you need to make any special arrangements to ensure that the views of all relevant groups are represented in the survey? 

2.d. Discussion: How will you use the data from the survey and how do you plan to follow-up on the survey?

3. Group activity: Develop a method for engaging with the community in the stages of developing and operating the nuclear plant.

3.a. Discussion: What values and principles do you highlight by engaging with the community? 

3.b. Discussion: How do you choose which participatory methods to use? 

You can use the following resources: Participation toolkit  or Performing Participatory Foresight Methods, Mazzurco and Jesiek, Bertrand, Pirtle and Tomblin. 



Localised case study: The development of Nuclear Energy in Ireland. 

Context description: Wikipedia entry for Nuclear power in Ireland and the Carnsore Point protests. 


The entire island of Ireland, comprising The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK), has never produced any electricity from nuclear power stations. Previous plans have been opposed as early as the 1970s through large public rallies, concerts, and demonstrations against the production of nuclear energy on the island. At the time, Carnsore Point was proposed as a site for the development of four nuclear reactors by the Electricity Supply Board. Public opposition led to the cancelling of this nuclear project and its replacement with a coal burning power station at Moneypoint. Since the 2000s there has been a renewed interest in the possibilities for producing nuclear energy on the island, in response to climate change and the need to ensure energy security. Surveys for identifying public acceptance and national forums have been proposed as ways to identify current perceptions and prospects for the development of nuclear energy. Nevertheless, nuclear energy in the Republic of Ireland is still prohibited by law, through the Electricity Regulation Act (1999). Nuclear energy is currently a contentious topic of debate, with many involved parties holding varying positions and arguments. 

Example of stakeholders: The Irish government; the UK government; political parties; electricity supply board (state owned electricity company); BENE – Better Environment with Nuclear Energy (lobby group); Friends of the Irish Environment (environmental group), Friends of the Earth – Ireland (environmental group); The Union of Concerned Scientists; Wind Aware (lobby group); local community (specified further based on demographic characteristics, such as the Traveller community); scientists in the National Centre for Plasma Science & Technology at Dublin City University (university researchers). 

Sources used for the description of the roles: Policy documents; official websites; institutional or group manifestos; news articles, editorials and other appearances in the media. 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

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