Big question

BQ10 - How do we remove more carbon than we emit by 2050?



The areas that this Big Question covers include:

  • Energy & Transport – decarbonise through avoidance, efficiency and alternatives to fossil fuels
  • Process Emissions – minimised emissions through prevention, optimisation or capture
  • Land Use & Carbon Capture – carbon sequestration potential maximised
  • Investment & Procurement – minimised emissions in materials, consumables, products & services, credible offsets
  • Customers – reduced emissions related to customer behaviour
  • Cross-Cutting – low carbon, sustainable water cycle management

Have a look at the route map – this is a plan as to how we will answer our Big Question through research.

The route map has a number of key elements. At the top is our Big Question and then the Outcomes we need to achieve from the research programme -if we can achieve all these Outcomes we can answer the Big Question. You can also see the Key Benefits that will come from achieving the desired Outcomes.

Click on the Research Outcomes below to see the Projects that have been completed or are underway. 

Scroll down further to see Case Studies explaining the impact of our research.

Current Project Summary 


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Integrating and producing hydrogen.

Project Status - Project Completed

Category - Carbon

The UK’s latest hydrogen strategy, published in August 2021, states that hydrogen is a new low carbon solution that is critical for the UK’s transition to net zero. There are a range of solutions to create hydrogen but it is likely that electrolysis of water will feature prominently in this. Research is required to establish the impact on water resources and to identify alternatives to electrolysis of water relevant to the water sector.


In light of the governments ambition to delivery 5GW of production to meet our net zero commitments, the water industry needs to understand and develop its position in the supply chain.

There is significant challenge in that there is little or no hydrogen production in the UK at present and therefore the implications on infrastructure and supply chain are currently unknown. This may well be an opportunity for the water sector but will need careful management to maintain water supply to customers.

Projects coming soon.

Projects coming soon.


BQ10 - Supporting wholelife carbon reduction: practices, evidence base and data.

Project Status - Project Commenced

Category - Overall Impacts

There is growing scrutiny of our embodied / scope 3 emissions: the quantum, our management of them. Inclusion in upcoming business plans and for England and Wales, in annual reporting.

A recent UKWIR project (ref: 22/CL/01/32 Calculating wholelife/ totex carbon) provided an appraisal of best / current practice, available tools​, and guidance on their systematic use. This built on UKWIR’s 2012 project (ref: 12/CL/01/15 A framework for accounting for embodied carbon in water industry assets) which included production of a meta-database of sources of carbon emission factors available from Government, academia, institutions and trade associations, water companies and suppliers.

We now need to update the 2012 work on construction carbon emission factors and pursue the areas for further research identified in the 2022 project. (ref: 12/CL/01/15 A framework for accounting for embodied  carbon in water industry assets).


Calculating wholelife / totex carbon.

Project Status - Project Commenced

Category - Carbon

Over the last 15 years the water sector has been developing tools for different aspects of its carbon footprint. Through UKWIR the Carbon Accounting Workbook provides a consistent approach for annual operational emissions. Also focused on operational emissions, the Water UK Net Zero routemap programme will culminate in the provision tools for estimating carbon reductions of different options over a given period of time, and the cost per tonne of CO2 avoided.

Now, growing attention is being paid to the embodied carbon of capital schemes and the sector’s supply chain. Already, various tools are available for estimating capital carbon emissions for new assets, (some of which include operational carbon) and with developments such as PAS2080 they are becoming more standardised. But uptake has been variable across the sector.

Two interconnected risks remain. Firstly, that embodied / capital carbon continues to receive less attention than operational emissions and that capital and operational carbon are not assessed in the round – contrary to totex thinking. Secondly, that the sector lags behind regulator and other stakeholder expectations on measuring capital carbon and building it into decision making and reporting

Projects coming soon.


Carbon accounting workbook update v15.

Project Status - Project Completed

To avoid inconsistent greenhouse gas emissions reporting we need a common method and accounting system. This is achieved through the carbon accounting workbook (CAW).

The CAW requires annual updating - at the very least to incorporate revised emissions factors issued by BEIS. Previous updates have also included broadening the scope of items that are quantified, and improving functionality.