Our New Magazine – Connected Places

How is digital twin technology changing how we think about everything from cities to railway stations? How will the third age of flight change our skies and the airports of the future? And how are UK cities thinking out of the box to fund net zero investment?

Get the latest insights from innovators and thought leaders in cities and transport!

This first issue of Connected Places magazine is packed with ideas from the people shaping and connecting the places of tomorrow.

There’s an interview with IT industry veteran Dr. Alison Vincent on how ‘connected intelligence’ is shaping the places of tomorrow, and a look at the future of our maritime economy from the Catapult’s very own Tom White.

We’ve got innovation news, advice on applying academic innovation, and recommendations for places to visit, books to read and podcasts to listen to if you – like us – have an insatiable appetite for new ideas.

Discover the people and companies at the forefront of new ideas for our connected world.

Love this? Then you’ll also love the Connected Places Podcast!


Moving on the Mersey

The history of the UK is one of trade, where we’ve been moulded and defined by our global connectivity through the seas. This is also true at a regional level, such as in Liverpool, the Solent, London and the Northeast. This trading history has created substantial regional employment opportunities at ports and in the maritime sector, as well as in supporting business services and in companies taking advantage of our growing access to new global markets.  

However, despite this history, we’ve seen some of our coastal regions decline in recent decades, influenced by myriad factors such as declining tourism, the globalisation of supply chains and the impacts of new technologies, standardisation and increasing automation. This is particularly relevant in terms of Levelling Up, where we must also recognise that many regions most in need of regeneration are our coastal communities.  

In levelling up our coast communities, innovation in maritime and ports can play a substantial role in rebuilding sustainable regional economies. Strengthening the maritime innovation ecosystem provides multiple benefits, such as supporting the growth of solution providers, creating new exploitation pathways for research, generating international export opportunities for UK intellectual property and attracting inward investment based on the unique strengths of maritime clusters in addressing globally relevant challenges.  

One of those challenges is in optimising the flow of people and goods across multiple transport modes, where coastal regions and areas with access to useable inland waterways networks have a unique opportunity to make better use of the connectivity providing by those waterways. Increasing the efficient use of waterways as part of wider transport systems can have many benefits, including the reduction of emissions compared to other modes of transport, providing improved user experience and removing congestion from our road and rail networks. 

In building up a vision of our renewed connectivity through waterways in UK regions, we teamed up with Royal Haskoning DHV and Mersey Maritime to establish three key user journeys that make better use of the River Mersey, including freight, tourists and commuters. Each of these journeys have been created together with stakeholders in the region, understanding their impact and value as well as the key technology elements that would come together through the new system. 

Moving on the Mersey – Freight User Journey
File Type: pdfFile size: 7.8MB
Moving on the Mersey – Tourist User Journey
File Type: pdfFile size: 7.3MB
Moving on the Mersey – Passenger User Journey
File Type: pdfFile size: 11.3MB

As part of the Moving on the Mersey initiative, we have created the Ecosystem Visualisation Tool, showcasing the full journeys, the components that will make them a reality and the wider ecosystem activity that a future, integrated transport system on the Mersey would support or create.

Follow the link to explore these journeys and get in touch with your feedback or to find out more as we work towards the next steps in this journey.

To find out more about Royal HaskoningDHV visit:

To find out more about Mersey Maritime visit:


Reimagining the UK’s ports and maritime economy

This episode features a special guest, David Shukman, the BBC’s former Science Editor, who’s reported from around the world on climate change and the environment for 30 years.

The United Kingdom is a maritime nation. From Liverpool to Bristol, Newcastle to the Solent, many of our great cities and regions have been profoundly shaped by their maritime history. Our ports have long been hubs connecting Britain to the rest of the world.

Over 90% of UK trade passes through the 51 major ports around our islands, and over 400 million tonnes of goods per year. More recently though, global disruptions in trade have focussed our attention on the importance of ports to the national economy. So too has the imperative of decarbonising our economy and hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Yet if we think of ports as underutilised hubs of innovation, things start to get exciting. Whether it’s 5G, autonomous systems, or net zero infrastructure, our ports can foster diverse innovation ecosystems. Because our ports can be powerful engines of regional growth. And they can work as gateways to new global markets and routes to foreign direct investment. 

With the right vision and imagination, we have the tools and capabilities to write a new and exciting chapter in Britain’s maritime story. 

This episode features a special guest, David Shukman, the BBC’s former Science Editor, who’s reported from around the world on climate change and the environment for 30 years.

We also meet some of the innovators and port operators who are writing that new maritime story, like Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of Port of Aberdeen and Nolan Gray, Freeport Director at Tees Valley Combined Authority. We hear from Anna Ziou, Policy Director at the UK Chamber of Shipping, as well as Mark Wharton and Sophie Peachey from IOTICS, a UK company specialising in data and digital twin technology.

Music on this episode is by Blue Dot Sessions and Phill Ward Music (

Show notes:

To find out more about our Clean Maritime Demonstrator project in Aberdeen, click here.

To learn more about our work on the future of the UK’s Freeports, click here.

To learn about how our ports are increasing being seen as hubs of clean energy and innovation, click here.

To download our report on Hubs of Innovation, click here, and you can also read our playbook for place leaders by clicking here.

And to register for the Maritime Innovation Week, which the Catapult is participating in as part of London Innovation Week from 13th-17th June, click here.

If you’d like to get in touch with your feedback, comments and suggestions on what you’d like to hear more of on Connected Places, please email: We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Follow the show!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Please also take a moment to write a review and rate us so that more people can hear about the podcast and what we do at Connected Places Catapult. 


Green ports as energy hubs

In a world of climate change and the ‘green agenda’, the focus has been primarily on air, rail, and road transportation in regard to emissions.

So attention has now turned to the maritime transportation sector, hence the discussions around this important sector at COP26 and beyond due to our increasing appetite for consumer goods, foodstuffs and produce from around the world.

To date the government has formed a strategy to a) reduce emissions within the maritime sector and b) at the same time convert our ports into areas of ‘green opportunity’ as hubs that produce energy for the wider economy.

Challenges – How can we reduce these emissions within the maritime sector?

Governments, academia, and ecological bodies have come together to form a strategy of action to reduce carbon dioxide globally.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has set a target to halve 2008 emission levels by 2050.

The strategies in place to reduce these emission levels are through:

  • increasing electrification of ports and port handling processes, and
  • the adoption of future fuels for example LNG (liquified natural gas), hydrogen or ammonia

Globally we all need to ‘come together as one’ to decarbonise shipping and ports, thus ensuring we meet our target for maritime CO2 reduction.

The UK leading the way

The United Kingdom is ideally positioned to lead the way in maritime carbon and CO2 reduction. Due to the UK being the home of the IMO, having direct access to regulators and the other bodies listed above. Though we must not forget the United Kingdom has always been a pioneering and seafaring nation when it comes to shipping. This has stemmed from the pioneering days of the seventeenth century exploration, the creation of the commonwealth and through to the present.

The United Kingdom – An opportunity to take the lead

There are over 100 ports are operating around the UK that process over 95% of UK trade. Thus, the time is right now for us to take the lead and lead by example in decarbonising our ports. ‘First mover’ opportunities within this sector allow us to build a significant competitive advantage.

For example:

  • The governments ‘Build Back Better’ strategy places the UK in the ideal position for our Ports to be among one of the first countries in the G20 to achieve net-zero.
  • The use of offshore wind farms to generate ‘clean energy’ in turn to supply the local logistics and warehousing sector with electricity.

Strategies & Enablers – reducing the carbon footprint within our ports

Ports are a complex mix of internal processes and wider stakeholder interactions that present significant challenges and opportunities in terms of reaching our national net-zero targets. Today our ports incorporate a broad range of infrastructure ranging from dockside facilities built in the Victorian era to highly automated cargo processing equipment. Therefore, what is the upshot and what is needed to achieve net-zero within our ports? Here are a few examples:

  • Adoption of ‘clean fuels’ e.g., Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) or Hydrogen. It has been noted that a green hydrogen industry could generate £320bn for the UK economy by 2050 and would support over 120,000 jobs within Freeports nationally.
  • Offshore renewable energy – the UK has the largest installed offshore wind capacity in Europe. This creates significant opportunity for our ports in the wind supply chain, for example, manufacturing, maintenance, and servicing. Plus, the added benefit of supplying energy to connected stakeholders (warehousing and logistics hubs).
  • IT (Information Technology) integration and ‘The Cloud’ – streamlining goods handling processes and reducing the number of goods movements within the port, saving time and energy consumed by loaders, forklift trucks and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs)

Ports as Green Energy Hubs – some examples

  1. Shell is developing a hydrogen hub through the Port of Rotterdam and the Hollandse Kust windfarm. Aiming to start production in 2023 it is expected to produce up to 60,000kg of hydrogen daily. This would in turn fuel 2,300 hydrogen-powered goods vehicles per day.
  2. The Port of Amsterdam is also involved in a green hydrogen project with Tata Steel and Nouryon, with the aim to create a 100MW hydrogen plant using energy generated by offshore wind.
  3. The Port of Aberdeen, Scotland is an accredited EcoPort and is playing a leading role in the region’s transition to a hydrogen economy, through the creation of an Energy Transition Zone. The Port of Aberdeen ETZ has primarily focused on renewables and their links to the wider transport network including hydrogen-fuelled buses and heavy goods vehicle fleets.

Find out more

This article is a summary of a full feature article which you can read in our Net Zero Places Innovation Brief.


A bright future for the UK’s Freeports

As announced by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak in the 2021 budget, the UK will soon have eight new Freeports. But the Government specification for Freeports includes requirements to work as an Innovation Hub for regional growth and support the transition to Net-Zero.

What is a Freeport?

A Freeport is defined as either a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) or a Free Trade Zone (FTZ). SEZs are geographical e.g., a region that covers all industrial and service sectors. An SEZ has beneficial tax, tariff and duty on goods and services. SEZs have differing commerce rules from the rest of the country. FTZs are known as ‘commercial-free zones’. Commonly they are fenced in, offer duty-free areas, warehousing and storage for goods transiting the UK.

Freeports – a ‘win-win’ strategy for the United Kingdom

Freeports have the potential to be powerful engines of regional growth, by attracting foreign direct investment and stimulating innovation and collaboration.

As part of the Government’s UK’s strategic objectives, Freeports have been devised to:

  • Build Back Better – Freeports have the potential to be powerful engines of regional growth, by attracting foreign direct investment and stimulating innovation and collaboration.
  • Levelling Up – To address regional inequalities for example ‘the North-South divide’ by providing opportunities not just in the South East by supporting regional economic growth nationally. As a UK government initiative ‘levelling up’ is a cross Whitehall departmental plan to implement better links with regional partners and decentralise power from the South East. The UK government has set up a £4.8 billion fund for regional infrastructure projects. Support is provided by the Department for Transport, Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government together with the treasury.
  • Transition to Net Zero – Investment of £12 billion as an ‘enabler’ to facilitate industry, business and, transportation to plan for a ‘greener economy’

The UK’s Global Position as a Freeport

The majority of UK maritime ports and airports have an international outlook and global presence and this becomes even more important in the case of Freeports. UK Freeports have the opportunity to build a strong global position by building on the UK’s key relevant characteristics:

  • attractive investment ground;
  • a global reputation as a good place to do business;
  • a robust platform for innovation; and
  • ease of access to import and export markets.

The UK is in a extremely good position to take advantage and become a global player when implementing Freeports.

Locating my business in a Freeport – what are the benefits?

The benefits of locating in a Freeport are many:

  • customs, reduced tariffs e.g. VAT,
  • stamp Duty Land Tax;
  • enhanced Structures and Building Allowance; and
  • enhanced Capital Allowances.

Where can I find more information?

To find out more, please download our publication ‘The Freeport Playbook’.