Aston University in Birmingham is developing new £16.5m engineering laboratories to showcase and develop renewable low carbon technologies for industry and business.
Due to open in October 2012, the demonstration laboratories on Aston’s campus will provide a major research facility within Birmingham ‘Eastside’ - a new learning, cultural and business quarter for the City.
The £16.5m bioenergy facility, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Advantage West Midlands and Aston University, will house a waste-fuelled power plant capable of turning sewage, wood, straw and grass cuttings into energy, and giant ‘radiators’ that can grow algae for fuel. The plant will transform waste materials into heat and electricity, produce hydrogen power for cars and create biochar for use as an agricultural fertiliser. A long-term research ambition is to create a ‘thermal ring’ of small scale power plants around Birmingham. This could divert mountains of biodegradable garden and agricultural 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 (*1). 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 Department for Business Innovation and Skills places the global biomass market at £144 billion in 2008/09, with the UK biomass market valued at £5.2 billion (*2).
Professor Andreas Hornung, Head of the European Bioenergy Research Institute at Aston University, believes the new facility, which itself will be powered by renewable energy will increase opportunities in the low carbon market. He said: “EBRI’s new £16.5m laboratories will showcase to industry how we can produce real-life solutions to tackling waste, with both environmental and financial benefits. Importantly we are developing biomass technologies which in no way conflict with food or crop production. We want to demonstrate how we can divert waste materials from going directly to landfill or incineration, for example, and harness this into useful forms of energy.”
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.