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SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub

 

A new research hub that will investigate the efficiency and whole-life impact of a variety of bioenergy techniques and accelerate the deployment of sustainable bioenergy was announced last week by David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science.

 

The new SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub is funded by a £3.5m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of the RCUK Energy programme. The Hub spans six research institutions and involves ten industrial partners. It will start work on August 1 and be directed by Dr Patricia Thornley of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at The University of Manchester. Initially the hub will address 10 research projects ranging from turning biomass into transport fuels to capturing carbon dioxide from burning biomass feedstocks.

 

Summary of research via SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub

Two projects will focus on reducing emissions from biomass combustion.  One of these will involve practical measurement work on real boilers, trying to identify cost effective methods of reducing particulates and other atmospheric pollutants at small scale. Lead: Newcastle University

 

Additionally a fundamental scientific study will focus on identifying key markers for emissions from fuel analyses. Lead: Leeds University

 

There is significant interest in substituting natural gas in the national network with bio-derived gas. This is already being trialled via anaerobic digestion routes, which can produce a close match to the natural gas composition, but generally uses feedstocks such as slurry.  This project will look at alternative routes to producing a natural gas substitute from other feedstocks, including wood and establish if the environmental and economic balances are worth pursuing when the whole life-cycle is taken into account. Lead: Bath University

 

Many biomass supply chains are long and complex, with multiple processing stages and the extent to which material is lost (e.g. in drying or storage) is poorly understood.  Work will focus on identifying the most significant losses along key supply chains, quantifying their impact and proposing measures to mitigate these. Lead: Rothamsted Research

 

It is essential to ensure that bioenergy systems actually deliver real greenhouse gas reductions. However, there are many stages in some supply chains where knowledge of potential greenhouse gas impacts is limited making it difficult in some cases to be confident that substantial reductions are being achieved.  This project will investigate key sources of uncertainty and their potential greenhouse gas significance, allowing producers and users to focus on improving these to maximize greenhouse gas savings. Lead: The University of Manchester

 

Turning biomass into a gas can increase the efficiency and improve the environmental impact of electricity and heat production as well as providing routes to transport fuel and chemical production.  Work on whole systems engineering integration of gasifiers will be carried out in close collaboration with industry to develop feasible and robust processing schemes. Lead: Newcastle University

 

There is increasing interest in heating or torrefying biomass to improve its physical characteristics during handling.  Work will be carried out to assess the economic and environmental benefits of this to support decision-making in supply chains. Lead: Bath University

 

If the carbon dioxide emissions produced when burning biomass can be captured and stored it could be possible to deliver energy systems with not just low, but actually negative greenhouse gas emissions i.e. where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere while producing energy.  Performance validation of key steps in these schemes will be carried out in conjunction with the CCS UK Centre hub. Lead: Leeds University             

 

Turning biomass into transport fuels is a significant research challenge as substantial processing and upgrading are required to meet biofuel specifications. One way of stepping towards that objective is to produce bio-oil by fast pyrolysis and upgrade that only to the minimum extent required to allow it to be mixed with mineral oil in a conventional refinery.  New approaches to this will be evaluated experimentally to establish the feasibility and potential greenhouse gas reductions. Lead: Aston University

 

There are many different pathways from woody biomass to biofuels, some of which are only just emerging and it makes sense to focus research effort on the more efficient and lowest cost processes as well as those most likely to deliver significant and cost effective greenhouse gas reductions.  Whole systems analysis of novel biofuel technologies will be carried out to screen for the most promising technology options. Lead: Aston University

 

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