£1.1m initiative to reduce fossil fuel reliance


5 September 2014

A £1.1m initiative to reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels by optimising energy efficiency in district heating networks is set to get under way in Birmingham. The initiative is the first of its kind and will also see a new fleet of electric vehicles powered from bioenergy. 

Birmingham is leading the way with multiple district heating networks (DHN) powered by natural gas combined heat and power (CHP) engine systems. These networks provide heat and electricity to key buildings and areas across the City including Aston University, Birmingham New Street Station and Birmingham Council House amongst others. These district networks will be joined to create a city centre wide network. 

During operational hours, CHP systems are usually used for their electricity production and so a significant proportion of the heat produced is not utilised. Now, Birmingham’s own CHP systems are set to be decarbonised by being powered by biofuels- organic waste such as food waste and sewage sludge- rather than fossil fuels through a unique bioenergy plant located in the European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University. The improved system will also have intelligent control technologies to enable surplus power to be stored, as well as used, in the batteries of electric vehicles (EVs) and will see an instalment of the first bioenergy powered electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Birmingham’s city centre. It means an EV such as a Nissan Leaf to be charged to 80% within 30 minutes instead of 6-8 hours with a standard domestic connection. This could be rolled out to over 900 EV charging points throughout the UK. 

The project, funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, will run from January 2015 to June 2017. It sees EBRI and Aston Business School at Aston University working with Cofely District Energy, Cenex Ltd and Open Energi to address these challenges. 

These are key priorities for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) who estimate that 14% of all heat provided in 2020 could come from DHNs - up from 2% in 2012 and representing a £4.6 billion per year share of the UK’s current £33 billion per year heating bill. 

Dr Jim Scott from EBRI at Aston University says the initiative will enable low carbon heat to be exported throughout the city for the first time. He explained: “The European Bioenergy Research Institute is excited to have a leading role in this initiative. EBRI’s 1MW bioenergy Pyroformer™/Gasifier demonstrator power plant is already providing heat, power and cooling to our building and part of the Aston University campus. This will allow bioenergy produced at EBRI to be exported directly through the Birmingham District Heating Network to be utilised across the city in buildings such as the newly redeveloped Birmingham New Street Station and Birmingham City Library. Our bioenergy technology also enables the Network to contribute to the government’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.”

An innovative control software solution will also be developed to manage the distribution of energy throughout the district heat network, optimising revenue generation and carbon savings, and helping National Grid to balance the electricity system. 

This innovation enables small-scale generators and sites with under-utilised generation assets to access a host of balancing market services passing value to the site owner rather than less efficient centralised power generators. 

The initiative offers not just improved efficiency but also social and environmental benefits too in the form of greater localised energy provision with less reliance on ageing infrastructure, job creation opportunities, a significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels, and the ability to utilise organic waste produced locally to provide low carbon energy. 

“The Birmingham District Energy scheme has been driven by innovation since its inception, so we are delighted to be involved with this initiative, which has the potential to take district energy to the next level,” said Paul Rawson of Cofely. “In working with the EBRI, I have no doubt that we will develop techniques and learn lessons that can be applied to our other district energy schemes in the UK and beyond.” 

Chris Walsh from Cenex said: “Cenex are very pleased to be working on this project with EBRI, Open Energi and Cofley. The integration of electric vehicles enabled with bi-directional energy transfer and bio-based generation technologies will offer a new way to generate and dispatch low carbon energy for future electricity networks. Through this project we hope to develop our expertise and broaden our technical knowledge to encompass the built environment and supporting technologies such as vehicle-to-grid (V2G).” 

Eamonn Bell from Open Energi said: “It costs UK electricity consumers £1 billion per year to keep the electricity grid in balance. The bulk of this money goes to generators who adjust their supply of power to match our demand. This project will support the development of innovative demand-side solutions which will allow electricity consumers to participate in the balancing market and turn power-hungry equipment into revenue generating assets." 


Notes to Editors 

·         Biofuels are made from organic matter - or ‘biomass’ – such as food waste, grass and leaves, sewage sludge and residues from manufacturing processes. These can be thermally and chemically treated to create bio-oil, biogas and biochar. In the UK, CHP and district heat networks (often found in urban areas) typically operate for less than 4000 hours per year; this is less than half of the year and this figure is in decline. 

·         The current district heat network market is predominately gas driven (69%) but the biofuel driven market is growing rapidly (from 4% in 2009 to 8% in 2012). Rising utility prices, greater government support and increased sustainable biomass availability through waste and residue sources mean that biomass fuelled district heat networks are increasingly financially viable.

·         The European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University delivers world-class research into all aspects of bioenergy. EBRI has been established since 2007 and bioenergy research has been taking place at the University from as early as 1978. EBRI was recently awarded£8.2 million from the European Regional Development Fund to build a new world-class facility for West Midlands businesses working in bioenergy technologies and component supply chain manufacturers to try out, test and get ready for market new products and processes within this field. www.aston.ac.uk/ebri

·         Cofely, a GDF SUEZ company is Europe’s leader in energy and environmental efficiency services.  We develop innovative solutions that improve the efficiency of cities, buildings, industry and infrastructure.  As a leading service business across public, private and healthcare sectors, we guarantee transformational outcomes – from reducing cost & environmental impact and maximising operational resilience, to improving the quality & efficiency of business processes. Cofely’s is also the UK’s largest provider of district energy, providing low carbon heating and cooling to users in public, commercial, industrial and residential sectors. www.cofely-gdfsuez.co.uk/de 

·         Cenex, the UK’s first Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon and Fuel Cell technologies, is a UK independent not for profit company.  We have established our position as the leading independent experts in low carbon vehicles and fuels through delivering a range of research and demonstration trials.  By encouraging the early market adoption of low carbon and fuel cell technologies in automotive applications, Cenex aims to assist the UK automotive supply chain to compete in global markets as well as showcase UK expertise to encourage inward investment. To support our diverse customer base Cenex has used its leading-edge low carbon vehicle expertise to develop a new approach to Fleet Carbon Reduction.  This business support package uses our unique Fleet Carbon Reduction Tool (FCRT): a bespoke simulation tool, backed by our real world experience that can quantify the environmental and economic impact of deploying low carbon vehicles. www.cenex.co.uk 

·         Open Energi works with large energy users across the public and private sectors to commercialise their energy loads, improve their energy management and support their sustainability goals.  Developed in the UK, our Dynamic Demand technology is a globally unique patented solution which provides a demand-side grid balancing service to help National Grid manage fluctuations in electricity supply and demand on a second by second basis. The service can switch equipment on or off as required within two seconds, making it one of the fastest forms of grid balancing available. www.openenergi.com

·         Innovate UK is the new name for the Technology Strategy Board – we’re the UK’s innovation agency, accelerating economic growth. We know that taking a new idea to market is a challenge. We fund, support and connect innovative businesses through a unique mix of people and programmes to accelerate sustainable economic growth. For further information visit our website at www.innovateuk.org.

For further information, contact Louise Ciaravella, Marketing & Communications Officer at the European Bioenergy Research Institute, on 0121 204 4637 or at l.ciaravella@aston.ac.uk