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New research hub to address burning bioenergy questions


Newcastle University is to play a key role in a new research hub set up to investigate the efficiency and impact of bioenergy technologies.

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.

Involving six research institutions and ten industrial partners, Newcastle University's Instite for Research on Sustainability ( NIReS) will lead in two key areas which focus on reducing emissions from biomass combustion.

Professor Dermot Roddy, who will lead the Newcastle part of the research, said the University was ideally placed to take this research forward.

“There is a lot of industrial interest in biomass in the North East, with SembCorp on Teesside using 300,000 tonnes per year in their Wilton 10 power plant and MGT planning to build one that is ten times bigger,” he explains.

“This is the first time a North East university has been involved in the national bioenergy SUPERGEN programme and it is a great opportunity for us to combine our knowledge and expertise.”

Newcastle University is taking the lead in two areas, the first of which is domestic-scale biomass heating.

“In areas where there is no natural gas grid there is a strong interest in using woody biomass as a heating fuel in modern domestic boilers,” explains Professor Roddy.  “However, in order to meet modern-day standards for chimney emissions we need to develop low-cost clean-up systems.

“The second area is biomass gasification technology.  The idea here is to convert biomass - which may be straw residue from agriculture or waste wood from forestry or wood processing, for example - into a gas which can be used for generating electricity, synthesising transport fuels or manufacturing chemicals.”

The research will involve work at the anaerobic digestion facilities at Newcastle University’s Cockle Park farm where the team will be trialling some new ideas for converting waste into Substitute Natural Gas (SNG).

The announcement was made by David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science.  He said: “Research and innovation play a vital role in our transition to a low carbon economy. The SUPERGEN BioEnergy Hub will bring together leading academic and industrial partners to look at this pressing challenge and develop practical solutions for a greener future.”
Professor David Delpy, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: “The scientific research carried out through the SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub can help us discover new and better ways of making fuels, generating power, managing carbon emissions and create economic opportunities for the UK.

“The Hub will act as a focal point, bringing industry, academia and other stakeholders together to focus on the challenges associated with bioenergy and its role in meeting environmental targets.”

published on: 17 July 2012