A Scottish university has unveiled a new blockchain research lab as part of a £1.3 million research partnership with a Chinese tech company.

The Moshan Blockchain Lab at the University of Glasgow – officially launched today – is a collaboration between researchers from the university’s James Watt School of Engineering and Hangzhou-based Victory Bench (VB) Hyperledger. 

The overseas tie-up is aiming to find ways to make blockchain technology better-suited for high-volume applications and more environmentally-friendly.

Over the course of the next three years, university researchers will work with their counterparts at VB Hyperledger to develop new algorithms for use on the blockchain – the decentralised, international digital ledger system which allows users to securely store, verify and exchange information.

One avenue of investigation for the new lab will be developing new methods for improving the scalability of blockchain transactions.

Currently, the rate at which new information can be added to blockchain-enabled systems is limited. That bottleneck prevents it from being more widely adopted for large-scale applications like mainstream banking or securing patient records in health systems, which could require hundreds of thousands of exchanges of information per second.

The researchers aim to develop a more streamlined system which will help to create an improved method of accessing, verifying and amending blockchain records.

The team will also investigate ways to make the process of using blockchain-enabled processes easier to perform on less computationally capable devices like mobile phones. That could lead to new protocols for performing the ‘proof of work’ calculations which underpins the creation of new units of cryptocurrency like bitcoin, potentially reducing the carbon footprint of the computer-power-intensive process of crypto mining.

Dr Lei Zhang, of the university’s James Watt School of Engineering, will lead the lab.

Dr Zhang said: “I’m proud to be partnering with VB Hyperledger to launch the Moshan Blockchain Lab at the University of Glasgow today.

“Blockchain technology has a great deal of potential still left untapped, and this collaboration is setting out to solve some of the problems of this evolving technology and expand the possibilities of how it can be used. We’ve already begun discussions with university colleagues in computing science, education, health care and finance about how we might collaborate in finding new applications for blockchain in their research and teaching. 

“I’m looking forward to working with the VB Hyperledger team over the course of the next three years, and I hope that this will mark the start of a long and fruitful collaboration.”

Mr. Wang Bo, chairman of VB Hyperledger, said: “VB Hyperledger has made a number of key breakthroughs in blockchain development, including enabling more than 140,000 transactions per second, and launched the Infinite Space Storage system (ISS) which enables the blockchain to store hash values and accept large files like audio and video.

“I hope that the Moshan Blockchain Lab at University of Glasgow will closely focus on the needs of the international academic front and integrate the advantages and characteristics of related disciplines such as mathematics, computing, communications and finance to promote cross-disciplinary integration to achieve major breakthroughs in the basic theory of blockchain.

“The joint lab has great potential to combine scientists from China and the UK to collaboratively create high-performance, co-governance, security and privacy blockchain application scenarios and solutions. Victory Bench Hyperledger is looking forward to working with more outstanding scientists and will continuously explore and develop in the field of blockchain.”

Over the course of the initial project, the Moshan Blockchain Lab researchers will also explore how 5G communications technology can support the potential applications of their new algorithms using the University of Glasgow’s Urban Testbed, funded by The Scotland 5G Centre.

Paul Coffey, chief executive of the Scotland 5G Centre, said: 5G and enhanced connectivity can improve efficiency and offer new opportunities for wireless blockchain networks to optimise performance and energy resource consumption. The Scotland 5G Centre is delighted to support this project and see the testbed as a key enabler for this research.”

Support for the Moshan Blockchain Lab at the University of Glasgow is supplied jointly by the University of Glasgow and VB Hyperledger. The partners will discuss the possibility of extending additional PhD studentships and investigating new areas of research at the end of the first year of their initial three-year collaboration.