Action Group on Renewable Energy-Desalination
Philip Davies of the Sustainable Environment Research Group is representing Aston University on the newly formed Action Group of the European Innnovation Partnership on Water, alongside partners including Agricultural University of Athens, Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (Almería, Spain), European Desalination Society, Fraunhofer Institute (Munich) and University of Palermo. The Action Group will promote the application of renewable energy to desalination at the European level. In Europe and many world regions, the demand for freshwater is outstripping supply. Increasingly people are turning to the sea as a source of water. The process of desalination involves removing the salt from seawater, to make it suitable for drinking, sanitation or irrigation. But desalination requires a large amount of energy, so it makes sense to use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Solar energy, for example, abounds in hot countries where water is most needed. Though the use of renewable energy for desalination is proven, there are many barriers to its adoption, and many improvements to the technology are possbile. As well as supporting R&D in this area, the action group will raise awareness of the of the available products and technologies and help to demonstrate their market potential. It will also work to bring about more effective policies for deployment of technologies that make sense for both the water and energy sectors. (Sept 2013).
Living Lab will remove barriers to electric vehicle use
Brian Price of the Sustainable Environment Research Group has obtained funding from the EC Marie Curie Programme to investigate overcoming the barriers to the adoption of electric vehicle through research on real drivers in a living lab in Denmark. The BUMILLA project will build on the work of the CABLED project which studied the behaviour of drivers of electric vehicles in the West Midlands. The CABLED project revealed that electric vehicles travel far enough and fast enough for 98% of journeys – but remain too expensive for most drivers. In collaboration with University of Gothenburg and Insero e-mobility, the Aston team will now study every aspect of electric vehicle usage for users living in a smart housing development having solar panels and intelligent energy management.
Not only can electric vehicles provide low- carbon transport, as vehicles are parked for 94% of the day, their large batteries can store electricity from the grid and sell it back when demand is high. This is vital in a country like Denmark which relies heavily on wind turbines, which are subject to intermittent supply and increasingly relevant to the UK energy sector. Speaking at a recent research seminar at Aston University, Price commented: ‘Vehicle users perceptions of their daily journey distances are often greater than reality. Thus their anxiety about the range of an electric vehicle is usually unfounded. Once this psychological problem is removed, the cost of electric vehicles is still a big issue. There are still only about 3,000 vehicles in the road in the UK which is way below the predictions from government and vehicle developers. To make electric vehicles more affordable, different business models are possible. For example, the driver can lease a battery on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis. BUMILLA will research business options using a real-life scenario based on the Living Lab.’ (February 2013)
Sharing knowledge across the Mediterranean
Philip Davies of the Sustainable Environment Research Group has participated in a conference organised by the Sharing Knowledge Foundation, aimed at improving understanding among researchers and policymakers from countries North and South of the Mediterranean. Delegates leant about the very strong prospects for growth among African economies. This growth is going to require massive investments in basic infrastructure such as energy, water, transport and telecommunications. But many African countries still lack capacity in technology, financial institutions, and the underpinning educational sector. Growth in African economies may benefit the more stagnant economies of Europe by providing new markets and applications for technological developments.
Despite the vast land resources of the continent, Africa is still a net importer of food. Exports are hindered by the absence of roads and by complicated customs procedures. On the other hand, many promising developments are benefitting the rural population. One example cited at the conference was ‘i-Cow’, a mobile phone service helping Kenyan dairy farmers plan their daily activities and get veterinary advice. And in countries like Morocco there has been extensive electrification in the countryside with the use of photovoltaic panels.
Speaking in the session about alternative sources of water, Dr Davies gave his presentation on the long-term future of desalination powered by solar energy. The predicted shortfall in sustainable water resources over the coming decades is very serious. Across the Middle Eastern and North African region, demand is forecast to increase by 100 cubic kilometres per year by 2030 – equal to the flow of the river Nile. Most of this will be required for irrigation. Desalination is already providing an important source of water in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Algeria and Israel. But it is expensive and one of the main reasons for this is the high usage of energy. In his presentation, Dr Davies showed that solar energy could help provide a sustainable solution. He highlighted some of the current research activities aimed at improving the processes of solar energy conversion and desalination. But there are also many low-cost ways of capturing and conserving freshwater resources, he pointed out, and he concluded that it is important to take an integrated approach to the management of energy and water resources to provide food for growing populations. (May 2012).
External link to Sharing Knowledge Foundation
Solar Thermal Collector designed and built
PhD students Jonathan Nixon and Opubo Igobo, of the Sustainable Environment Research Group, have designed and installed a new design of solar thermal collector on the roof of Aston University. The collector is electronically controlled to follow the movement of the sun. It will be used in India to provide a much needed energy source read more. (November 2011).
Special Journal Issue reports on UK-India collaboration
Members of the Sustainable Environment Research Group have contributed 6 articles to a Special Journal Issue reporting on more than 3 years of collaborative research between UK and Indian universities. Entitled Water Management & Biomass Production for Rural Energy Systems, the Special Issue covers topics including Rain Fed and Wastewater Irrigation, Treatment and Use of Brackish Water, and Biomass Energy Conversion. Further contributors include IIT Delhi, GP Pant University, Haryana Agricultural University, Rajasthan Agricultural University and the universities of Bristol, Coventry Leeds, and Warwick. Published in the Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Special Issue is freely available to download at link. (August 2011).
Members of the Sustainable Environment Research Group have designed a solar-powered fan that has been used to cool greenhouses in the Australian outback. Ten of the solar-powered fans, each measuring 1.25 m in diameter, have been installed near Port Augusta by the London based company Seawater Greenhouse Ltd. The fans substitute mains powered units conventionally used for greenhouse cooling – but consume only a fraction of the electricity. Because the fans respond to the amount of solar energy available, they speed up as the day gets hotter and shut down automatically at night when cooling is no longer needed. There is no need for expensive batteries to store electricity from the solar PV panels. Opubo Igobo, who completed an MSc in Product Design Innovation from Aston University, developed the electronic control circuit for the fan so that it achieves maximum air flow. The system was tested in the labs at Aston, before replication for use in Australia. The greenhouse has been used to grow valuable tomato crops for local markets. (July 2011)
External link to Seawater Greenhouse Ltd