Working with us

Our focus is on applied research and on the needs of society and industry. This is evidenced by the support and collaboration we currently enjoy from such diverse interests as: Research Councils UK, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Royal Society, the European Union (EU), Seawater Greenhouse Ltd, Middlemarch Environmental, the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Industrial Boilers Ltd and the Asian Development Bank. The following case studies give examples of the work we carry out together with some of these organisations.

Case studies

Desalination of brackish groundwater 

by T. Qiu, O. Igobo and P. Davies

SERG - Arid Landscape in Northern IndiaSaline groundwater occurs across vast areas in India, Australia, United States, Middle East and other regions. Desalination of groundwater is essential to provide freshwater in arid places remote from both seawater, lakes and rivers. But current methods of desalination use substantial energy. They also discharge significant amounts of concentrated saline water which pollutes the surroundings. The ideal groundwater desalination system should operate using a sustainable energy source and provide high recovery of freshwater from the saline feedwater. To achieve these aims, we have designed DesaLink, a novel approach to linking the solar Rankine cycle to reverse osmosis (RO). Conventional desalination systems use electric motors to drive the desalination process. Instead, DesaLink uses the pressure of steam evaporated in solar collectors. The novelty of the process lies in the linkage system between the steam piston and the high-pressure pump, which is designed for maximum efficiency. And unlike most dealination systems DesaLink uses a batch rather than continuous process. Based on a theoretical model of the process, we have identified and quantitified potential losses caused by dispersion in the RO modules, and by the build up of salts near the membrane surface (concentration polarisation). Currently we are constructing a pilot scale system for test and demonstration at Aston University and later we plan to test this in the Punjab region of India.

External link to journal article in Desalination.

Acknowledgements to the Research Councils UK and the Department of Science and Technology (Govt of India).

Multi-Criteria Decision Making technique helps select solar technologies

by J. Nixon, P. Dey and P. Davies

Renewable energy projects are complex - they affect many people in different ways. When it comes to selecting technologies in areas like solar and biomass it is not possible to define a single decision making criterion like cost. In this project about a hybrid-solar biomass power plant for  use in India, we have recognised the multiplicity of criteria and evaluated them with the help of the Analytical Hierarchy Process. Working in collaboration with the Operations and Information Management group of Aston Business School, we organised a workshop among stakeholders at the Solar Energy Centre (Delhi) to determine how experts weighed up financial, technical and environmental factors applicable to the selection of the solar collectors - the key techology likely to determine the success of failure of the project. Based on the outcomes, we are working to improve the design of the Linear Fresnel Reflector, which is a low cost design particularly promising where not only electricity but also thermal energy is required for uses such as processing of rice and other foodstuffs. The evolution of the design has benefitted from inputs from a number of partners including the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and the Industrial Boilers Ltd.

External links:
Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

Acknowledgements to the Research Councils UK and the Department of Science and Technology (Govt of India).

Solar-powered cooling system for greenhouses 

by G. Lychnos and P. Davies

SERG - Greenhouse Schematic

Researchers of the Sustainable Environment Research Group have proven that it is possible to cool greenhouses using solar energy. In hot countries this will enable crops to be cultivated outside the normal growing seasons. Though methods for cooling greenhouses already exist they are poorly suited to hot and humid places like the India and the Middle East. For his PhD project George Lychnos has developed a method for greenhouse cooling that relies on the properties of salts found in seawater. Magnesium salt attracts moisture and, by removing moisture from the air, makes it possible to cool the air by bringing it into contact with seawater. The magnesium chloride salt is recycled as a solution and kept concentrated by the action of sunlight which drives off moisture.

Writing in the journal Energy, Dr. Lychnos and his supervisor Dr. Philip Davies have reported that the solar-cooled cooling system permits cultivation of crops like lettuce, tomato, cucumber and soya all year round – even in the harshest climates. ‘The world’s population is growing most quickly in hot countries and climate change is now posing an additional threat to food security’, says Davies, ‘New technologies are needed to cultivate food intensively in protected environments and these technologies should use renewable energy sources like solar’.

Though there are many concepts available for solar-powered cooling, most of them rely on toxic fluids and heavy-duty pressure vessels.  In contrast, this new system needs only seawater and sunlight and operates at atmospheric pressure.

Acknowledgements to the Royal Society and the Greek State Scholarship Foundation.


Sustainable energy from paper industry wastes

by A. Hossain and P. Davies   SERG-EBRI paper sludge


De-inking sludge is a waste derived from secondary fibre paper mills and is produced during the de-inking stage of paper recycling. Approximately 1 million tonnes of sludge are produced each year in the UK. Currently de-inking sludge is disposed of land-spreading, incineration with natural gas, or by land filling – practices which are highly unsustainable and costly.

An alternative is to convert the sludge into liquid fuels by thermal processing (pyrolysis) which can be used in diesel engines. We are working with the European Bio-energy Research Institute at Aston which has developed intermediate pyrolysis as a means of processing a wide range of biomass and waste materials. Intermediate pyrolysis is being applied to sludge acquired from a local paper mill.

The first stage in the testing of any alternative fuel is to characterize the fuel: this includes measurements of calorific value, flashpoint, cetane index, pH, density, viscosity and elemental analysis. These give an indication of the suitability of the fuel. Pyrolysis liquids are difficult to use in pure form but they can be used as blends with standard diesel or preferably biodiesel. Our engine testing facility enables a range of parameters to be studied, including fuel consumption, cylinder pressures and combustion characteristics, and exhaust gas compositions. Constituents in the exhaust gas like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates can contribute to atmospheric pollution causing global warming or smog formation. Careful attention of the engine parameters and fuel blend can minimize these pollutants while maximizing the engine performance and power output.

Acknowledgements to Research Councils UK

Water and land resource assessment in Pakistan

by J. Elgy

The Punjab in Pakistan is a major agricultural area where the productivity of the land has been improved by the creation of large scale irrigation schemes at the start of the 20th century. One of these schemes, the Lower Bari Dohab Canal Improvement project is to be renovated with funding from the Asian Development Bank and the Government of the Punjab. The project area is about half the size of the county of Yorkshire and involves the conjunctive use of thousands of water wells and many irrigation canals and distributaries. Dr. John Elgy is responsible for the collection and collation of all the data relevant to the area and its hydrology. Some of the data dates back to the 1930s. Much of this data is in old formats and units with the use of multiple map projections and datums, some of which are poorly documented. The data is being restructured into a Geographical Information System (GIS)  to give a coherent database. Local staff are being trained in the use of GIS and database management systems.

The project makes extensive use of Dr. Elgy’s expertise in water and land resources planning, groundwater hydrology, remote sensing and geographical information systems where he has published and supervised doctoral students. His teaching of database management systems at undergraduate level and experience in developing countries prompted german-based consultancy Lahmeyer International to approach him to take up the post.

The map illustrates an example of the work being done. It shows a digital elevation model of the project area bounded by the main rivers of the region: Sutlej, Chenab and Ravi.

Acknowledgements to the Asian Development Bank and the Government of the Punjab

SERG - Punjab Pakistan