New Engineering labs to strengthen bioenergy research

Vice Chancellor Prof Julia King and Prof Andreas Hornung survey new algae tanks
Vice Chancellor Prof Julia King and Prof Andreas Hornung survey new algae tanks

May 14th, 2010

Aston University in Birmingham has strengthened its world-leading research into bioenergy with the opening of new £650,000 state-of-the-art engineering laboratories.

The ‘Royal Society-Wolfson Advanced Biofuels and Bioenergy Laboratory’ were officially opened by Aston Vice Chancellor, Professor Julia King on Thursday, May 13th  followed by a series of presentations into alternative energy research, from Aston academics, Advantage West Midlands and Birmingham City Council.

The new chemical engineering laboratories will accommodate the University’s European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) and build upon Aston’s 40 years of tradition into research into low carbon, renewable technologies for the benefit of the West Midlands region, the UK and abroad.

The new suite funded by The Royal Society and Wolfson Foundation will focus on biomass conversion technologies - the process of transforming plant materials, oils and municipal and agricultural waste into useful and valuable forms of renewable energy.

Examples of bioenergy research projects currently involving Aston University include;

  • A £6.2m SUPERGEN bioenergy project managed by Aston with 14 research organisations and nine companies delivering a UK centre of excellence in bioenergy and biofuels research and development.

  •  A €3.73 million research project to develop a renewable biofuel that can reduce reliance on fossil diesel imports in Europe and South America.

  • A collaboration with Severn Trent Water company to transform sewage sludge into energy.

  • A collaboration with Johnson Matthey to transform pyrolysis gases and synthesis gases into fuels for heat and power engines.

  • A £3m project in conjunction with the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi to develop mini power plants powered by renewable and waste sources in Birmingham and India. The Indian project will help tackle the problem of unreliable energy supplies in rural India and help end fuel poverty.

Further multi-million pound laboratories, which will contain a combined heat and power plant powered by alternative fuels, and algae tanks to generate heat and power, are also being built at Aston’s campus, and are set to open later this year. The overall developments will play a key role in Aston becoming a centre of excellence for bioenergy research and development and help the City of Birmingham reach its ambitious targets of a 60 %reduction in CO₂ emissions by the year 2026.

Professor Andreas Hornung, Head of the European Bioenergy Research Institute, said; “We are delighted with the development of these cutting-edge laboratories, which will continue to expand the breadth and depth of our research and improve opportunities for regional, UK and international collaborations.”

Professor Tony Bridgwater from Aston’s Bioenergy Research Group (BERG), added; “Biomass is the only source of renewable carbon, the chemical basis of all our transport fuels and many of the products we use every day, for example plastic. Biomass can reduce our reliance on dwindling fossil fuel levels and these new laboratories will allow us to expand our essential research.”

Prof. Robert Berry, Executive Dean of Engineering & Applied Science added; “Aston University has a strong reputation in engineering research and excellence. The new laboratories will help strengthen our position as a world leader in developing low carbon technologies which are essential for a renewable energy future.”



For further press information please contact Alex Earnshaw, 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 planned 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. Since its launch EBRI has been growing day by day and its initiatives are delivering results which have been published across a large number of media releases.

  • BERG - the Bioenergy Research Group within EBRI at Aston University is one of the largest university based research groups in thermal biomass conversion in the world. It was formed in 1986 as a focus for a range of inter-related activities in biomass conversion and environmental studies related to global warming and has grown into a substantial multi-disciplinary research effort. BERG is one of the research groups in EBRI at Aston University.

  • The Royal Society – The Royal Society is the national academy of science of the UK and the Commonwealth. The independent, charitable body is at the cutting edge of scientific progress. They support top young scientists, engineers and technologists, influence science policy and debate scientific issues.

  • The Wolfson Foundation is a charity that awards grants to support excellence in the fields of science and medicine, health, education and the arts & humanities. Established in 1955, it aims to support excellence, generally through the funding of capital infrastructure. The endowment of the Wolfson Foundation is currently some £725 million, with an annual allocation of approximately £35 million. By 2010 over £600 million had been awarded in grants (in excess of £1 billion in real terms). Over 8,000 projects have been funded. All grants are awarded following a rigorous review process involving expert reviewers. As well as backing excellence, grants are often made to act as a catalyst - so that the Foundation's funds can lever additional support. An important element of the Foundation's strategy is to seek collaboration with other expert bodies.  Fruitful partnerships have included leading academic societies (notably the Royal Society and the British Academy), government departments, other grant-making trusts (such as the Wellcome Trust) and charities ranging from Help the Hospices to the Art Fund.