Aston’s energy solutions will power the West Midlands using waste and sewage

At Aston University, sustainability is central to our mission. Through our research, our institutional commitment, and our skilled graduates, we
are working to deliver the technologies and the people to lead the low carbon economy.

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Chemical engineers at Aston University are developing a renewable biofuel to reduce reliance on fossil diesel imports.

The Bioenergy Research Group at Aston, led by Professor Tony Bridgwater, is focussed on the fast pyrolysis of biomass to produce liquids that can be used as fuels for heat or power. The Research Group has a clear mission – to apply chemical engineering to help provide the world with sufficient energy, fuels and chemicals from renewable and sustainable
biomass resources to meet tomorrow’s needs. In order to utilise the energy of biomass it has to be processed and Professor Tony Bridgwater has led the way in developing
thermal processing techniques. The pioneering work of Tony Bridgwater has enabled a second Aston team led by Professor Andreas Hornung to make further new research breakthroughs.

This work on developing biofuels from waste materials promises to be an important step
forward in the quest to produce really sustainable, clean, and reliable power from new sources. The new £16.5m European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) laboratories - which include a biomass fuelled power plant - will play a key role in showcasing and developing new renewable technologies to industry that could even see cities in the future powered by their own waste materials.

Due to open on Aston’s campus in October 2012, EBRI will include photo bioreactors
harnessing algae and an industrial power plant fuelled by biomass. This will generate heat
and power from, sewage sludge, wood and agricultural waste and at a later stage from

algae. It will also generate biomass byproducts including low cost bio-hydrogen
power for low carbon vehicles or fuel cells and ‘biochar’. This ‘char’ is created by the
biogenic sequestration of carbon dioxide and is used as an agricultural fertiliser and soil
conditioner. A long-term ambition is to create a ring of medium scale industrial power plants all around Birmingham that could divert biodegradable waste away from landfill and
incineration and feed energy back into the National Grid and existing micro grids.
Professor Andreas Hornung, Head of the European Bioenergy Research Institute, believes the new £16.5m development will increase opportunities in the
low carbon market and promote emerging low carbon technologies to business.

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, 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. Reducing carbon emissions is absolutely critical for tackling climate change. The city of Birmingham is aiming for a 60% CO2 reduction by 2026.”

EBRI is working with a range of leading companies including Severn Trent Water, in a project to transform sewage sludge into energy, and with Johnson Matthey to transform gases into fuels. The team is also developing a further ‘mini power plant’ in conjunction with the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi to help tackle the problem of unreliable energy supplies in rural India and help end fuel poverty.

EBRI is funded by The European Development Fund, Advantage West Midlands and Aston

For more information visit the EBRI webpages, the BERG webpages or download issue 1 of Aston Advances.

Aston 100 - Mini power plant