Photo bioreactors cultivating algae at Aston University

University developing bioenergy labs to develop low carbon technologies

Aston University in the UK is developing engineering laboratories to showcase and develop renewable low carbon technologies.

The facility, which is being funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Advantage West Midlands and Aston University, will include giant photo bioreactors harnessing algae, and a 0.4MWel small scale industrial power plant fuelled by biomass.

Due to open in October 2012, the plant will generate heat and power from biomass using algae, sewage sludge, wood and agricultural waste as sources of fuel. It will also generate biomass by-products including hydrogen power for low carbon vehicles or fuel cells and Biochar for use as an agricultural fertiliser and a source for decentralised hydrogen production.

A long-term research ambition is to create a ‘thermal ring’ of small scale industrial power plants around Birmingham, which could divert biodegradable waste away from landfill and incineration and feed energy back into the National Grid.

Professor Andreas Hornung, head of the European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University, believes the new £16.5m development, which itself will be powered by renewable energy will increase opportunities in the low carbon market.

“EBRI will be using these laboratories to develop biomass technologies which in no way conflict with food production and are solely planned to operate on biogenic wastes.

“We want to divert waste materials from going directly to landfill or incineration for example, and harness the enormous untapped resources of biomass. Our new facility will showcase to industry how biomass can produce real-life solutions to tackling waste, with both environmental and financial benefits,” he said.

Aston University Vice Chancellor Professor Julia King said reducing carbon emissions was “absolutely critical for tackling climate change”.

“Through our research, our institutional environmental performance, and through our graduates we are working to deliver the technologies and the people to lead the delivery of the low carbon economy for the West Midlands region, the UK and beyond.

“EBRI’s research into developing biofuels from carbon containing waste materials, promises to provide an important breakthrough in the quest to produce really sustainable, clean, and reliable power from new sources - a concept of cities powered by their own waste is being explored through our involvement in the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s ‘Climate-KIC’ knowledge and innovation community,” she said.

Advantage West Midlands director of European Programmes Mark Foley said the facility would raise the profile of the region as a leader within the field of low carbon technologies.

“Encouraging innovation, research and development, together with building a sustainable future for the region, are key priorities for the ERDF Programme.”

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