Sunlight is the most abundant source of energy available to humankind. But so far the challenge of capturing and using solar energy economically and effectively remains largely unmet. Researchers at Aston are working on new materials to enable cheaper and more versatile ways of producing electricity from sunlight. (read more)
They are also working on new concepts for solar energy systems that circumvent the need for electricity altogether. Instead the solar energy will provide other kinds of outputs. One example is the development of a solar powered cooling system for greenhouses, which can be used to produce food crops in hot climates. Another example is solar powered desalination – useful for extracting freshwater from saline water found in the sea and underground sources.
A drawback of solar energy systems is the difficulty of storing the energy for use after sunset. Together with partners in India, we are working on combined solar-biomass power plants, in which biomass such as rice husk is used to provide the back up energy. Solar collectors are being developed for use in these hybrid systems.
The world population continues to grow - but the earth is not getting any bigger! If all the inhabitable land area were shared out evenly among its 7 billion inhabitants each person would get about 1.2 hectares. By 2050 this will be less than about 1 hectare or, to put it another way, 1 football pitch each – not a lot considering that this area has to provide all our food and fibres and absorb much of our waste. Land resource assessment uses computer tools such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to make systematic assessments of resources of land, vegetation, and water in relation to population. It is very relevant to other Aston research themes like bioenergy and solar energy. Because of its global perspective, this area naturally involves international collaboration for example with India and Pakistan (read more)
Not only humans but also plants and animals occupy land footprint. Humans may appear to be in competition with other species but are also totally reliant on them, because all living organisms are connected through ecosystems. Human activity is causing a great loss to biodiversity. Researchers of the Sustainable Environment Research Group use GIS and other tools to study the increasingly important topic of the intereraction of human projects and ecosystems, as reflected by the growing amount of legislation in this area (read more)
The needs for transport and power generation in the future are growing. Meanwhile there is a need to reduce the environmental impact from engines and to find alternative prime movers.
Our researchers are working on the use of alternative fuels derived from biomass in engines. We are particularly interested in fuels that can be derived from waste sources as these reduce the land requirements for cultivation compared to conventional 'first generation' biofuels. Case study>
In addition we are collaborating with researchers across the West Midlands to facilitate the introduction of low carbon vehicles, such as electric vehicles, hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells. Setting up the right infrastructure for these technologies requires a detailed understanding of end user usage patterns. This information is used by vehicle manufacturers to select the optimal powertrain configuration to minimize environmental impact through CO2 reduction and by energy providers and regional authorities to cost effectively site recharging/fueling points within the built environment. Current research projects focus on analysis of real-world data from prototype fleets to establish representative vehicle use profiles. These profiles are incorporated into journey simulation programs to maximize the environmental impact reduction of Low Carbon Vehicles.