Cardiff academic elected as Fellow of the Royal Society
15th May 2012
Breakthroughs on the geo-environmental engineering processes have won Professor Hywel Thomas one of the highest honours in world science.
Professor Thomas has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society, widely regarded in the UK as second only to a Nobel Prize in prestige. The Society, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, includes Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Professor Stephen Hawking among its past and present members.
Born in Llandovery, Professor Thomas came to the School of Engineering in 1980. His research centres on highly complex movements of heat, liquids and gases through the soil. The models he has built have proved of worldwide importance in understanding thermal and physical conditions underground. Professor Thomas also created what is thought to be the world’s first research centre in this field at Cardiff.
Professor Thomas said: "We have applied this research in geo-environmental engineering, particularly in solving problems in waste management. I have worked in this area for twenty years, looking at how best to contain radioactive material deep underground. We are setting up satellite research centres in Ghana and Nigeria to deal with problems of ground contamination, for example the case of Persistent Organic Pollutants. We are also working with the Indian Institute of Science on a sustainable groundwater project."
Professor Thomas’ expertise has been called upon by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. He has also been appointed to a UNESCO Chair in the Development of a Sustainable Geo-environment. More recently he has been exploring the possibilities of underground heat as sources of renewable energy.
The Geo-environmental Research Centre (GRC), based in the School of Engineering, has been awarded the SEREN project.
The SEREN project, an £8.3M project funded with £4.6M from the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Assembly Government and remainder through the British Geological Survey, Private Sector and University's own funds, is designed to deliver new and innovative ground engineering technologies and help businesses commercialise innovative ideas and develop new products, services and technologies for the low carbon economy.
Research is being undertaken into more efficient extraction of heat from the ground, in order to provide heat energy to buildings, which will reduce carbon emissions.
It’s hoped that the impact of this research will help create two new industries in Wales supporting new jobs and businesses, and with the potential to make a significant contribution to Wales’ quest to become self sufficient in energy.
Professor Thomas said: "The technologies developed on the SEREN project will not only help create new industries here in Wales, but will also showcase Welsh companies worldwide.