£16.5m low carbon engineering laboratories


17 March 2011

Aston University is developing new £16.5m engineering laboratories to showcase and develop renewable low carbon technologies including a biomass fuelled power plant. 

Due to open on Aston’s campus in December 2012, the facility, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, 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. 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. This could divert biodegradable waste away from landfill and incineration and feed energy back into the National Grid.

Bioenergy is a key element of the UK achieving its EU Renewable Energy Directive- a target of 15 per cent of energy from renewable by 20201. Renewable heat and in particular bioenergy are expected to play a key role of up to 30 per cent of the target in addition to wind, solar and tidal power. The City of Birmingham is itself aiming for a CO2 reduction of 60% by 2026.

Professor Andreas Hornung, Head of the European Bioenergy Research Institute 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.

He said: “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.”

Aston University Vice Chancellor, Professor Julia King, who is the UK’s Low Carbon Business Ambassador and author of the ‘King Review’ into sustainable vehicles and fuel technologies, said: “Reducing carbon emissions is 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.”

Mark Foley, Director of European Programmes at Advantage West Midlands adds his support to the project.

He said: “Encouraging innovation, research and development, together with building a sustainable future for the region, are key priorities for the ERDF Programme. Supported with over £8 million of ERDF funding, the facility will raise the profile of the region as a leader within the field of low carbon technologies.”

EBRI is working with a range of leading companies to develop alternative energy solutions, including Severn Trent Water, in a project to transform sewage sludge into energy and collaboration with Johnson Matthey to transform gases into fuels for heat and power engines.  

 For further press information please contact Alex Earnshaw, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4549

Notes to editors:

  • Biomass is any plant material, such as wood, crops, agricultural waste or vegetables which can be processed to produce energy for power, heat, transport fuels and chemicals. Currently it accounts for just under half a per cent of the UK’s energy.

  • EBRI - The European Bioenergy Research Institute at Aston University was launched in 2008. It plans to create a unique platform for the development and implementation of bioenergy systems in local, national and European contexts as well as reaching for International community.