£16.5m engineering laboratories to develop low carbon technologies


Aston is developing new £16.5m engineering laboratories to showcase and develop renewable low carbon technologies including a biomass fuelled power plant. 

Due to open in October 2012, the facility, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Advantage West Midlands and the University, will include giant photo bioreactors harnessing algae, and a 0.4MWel small scale industrial power plant fuelled by biomass. The Plant will generate heat and power from biomass using algae, sewage sludge, wood and agricultural waste as sources of fuel. It will also generate biomass by-products including hydrogen power for low carbon vehicles or fuel cells and Biochar for use as an agricultural fertiliser and a source for decentralised hydrogen production. A long-term research ambition is to create a ‘thermal ring’ of small scale industrial power plants around Birmingham. This could divert biodegradable waste away from landfill and incineration and feed energy back into the National Grid.

Bioenergy is a key element of the UK achieving its EU Renewable Energy Directive- a target of 15 per cent of energy from renewable by 2020. Renewable heat and in particular bioenergy are expected to play a key role of up to 30 per cent of the target in addition to wind, solar and tidal power. The City of Birmingham is itself aiming for a CO2 reduction of 60% by 2026.

Professor Andreas Hornung, Head of the European Bioenergy Research Institute, believes the new £16.5m development, which itself will be powered by renewable energy will increase opportunities in the low carbon market.

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 for example, 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.”

The Vice Chancellor, Professor Julia King, who is also the UK’s Low Carbon Business Ambassador, said: “EBRI’s research into developing biofuels from carbon containing waste materials, promises to provide an important breakthrough in the quest to produce really sustainable, clean, and reliable power from new sources - a concept of cities powered by their own waste is being explored through our involvement in the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s ‘Climate-KIC’ knowledge and innovation community.”

Mark Foley, Director of European Programmes at Advantage West Midlands adds his support to the project. He said: “Encouraging innovation, research and development, together with building a sustainable future for the region, are key priorities for the ERDF Programme. Supported with over £8 million of ERDF funding, the facility will raise the profile of the region as a leader within the field of low carbon technologies.”

EBRI is working with a range of leading companies to develop alternative energy solutions, including Severn Trent Water, in a project to transform sewage sludge into energy and collaboration with Johnson Matthey to transform gases into fuels for heat and power engines.  

Words by Alex Earnshaw
25 March 2011

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