Meeting rising demand for world energy

The Bioenergy Research Group, part of the European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University, led by Professor Tony Bridgwater, is focussed on applying chemical engineering to help provide the world with sufficient energy and fuels from renewable biomass to meet tomorrow’s needs.

Fast pyrolysis

Fundamentally this means developing processes and products whereby fastgrowing energy crops like coppiced willow and miscanthus, and agricultural wastes such as straw are thermally converted into high yields of liquids by a technology known as fast pyrolysis. This is a modern, advanced process where biomass is heated very rapidly in an oxygen-free environment at a carefully controlled temperature of around 500°C.

The resulting liquid product is known as bio-oil and can be used for heat and power production, and if upgraded, can be converted into petrol and diesel. As well as evaluating different types of biomass and optimising production processes, Professor Bridgwater has devised strategies for the effective development and deployment of biorefineries.

Fast pyrolysis has been evaluated as one of the most important and economical enabling technologies in the USA and Canada.

Fast pyrolysis remains a recent technology and Tony Bridgwater is its academic pioneer. Over the last 30 years, Tony has won over £25 million of funding from a variety of sources including the European Commission and UK Research Councils. He has advised many of the international companies now active in the field and worked to develop a worldwide research community which now spans many hundreds of organisations.

Fast pyrolsis plays a critical role in the development of an integrated bioenergy system, in which efficient thermal conversion, chemical synthesis and liquid and gas processing lead to the production of heat and power. The team at Aston is one of the leading European Bioenergy Research Groups, with a leadership track record in science, technology, promotion and commercial collaboration.

Launch of the EBRI

Tony's research and vision have led to £8 million of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for Aston University to create the recently opened European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI), which will promote emerging low carbon technologies to business. EBRI will showcase to industry how biomass can produce cost effective and scaleable solutions to utilising biomass, residues and waste for heat, power and biofuels, with real financial and environmental benefits.

Tony has published 30 books and over 300 peer reviewed papers. The launch of EBRI will increase opportunities to apply biomass-based technologies in a commercial context, and may become the catalyst for great cities like Birmingham to be powered by their own waste materials.