Minister announces £3.5 million for SUPERGEN Bioenergy research hub

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Bioenergy research equipment comprising of cylindrical metal tubes with wires and plugs

SUPERGEN Bioenergy research

Sustainable power generation and supply (SUPERGEN) Hub to address burning bioenergy questions

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 today by David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science.

The new SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub is funded by a £3.5 million grant from the EPSRC as part of the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Energy programme. The Hub spans six research institutions and involves ten industrial partners. It will start work on 1 August 2012 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 ten research projects ranging from turning biomass into transport fuels to capturing carbon dioxide from burning biomass feedstocks.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts 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.

Dr Patricia Thornley said: The SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub is going to really drill into a whole host of bioenergy prospects. It is not just going to look at what will work practically, in terms of generating power, but also the impact of such technologies. This is vitally important; we have to look at the sustainability of these new avenues.

For example, two of the projects will focus on reducing emissions from biomass combustion. One will involve practical measurement work on real boilers, trying to identify cost effective methods of reducing particulates and other atmospheric pollutants at small scale. Additionally, a fundamental scientific study will focus on identifying key markers for emissions from fuel analyses.

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.

A summary of the type of work to be carried out through the Hub is below.

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: University of Leeds

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: University of Bath

Many biomass supply chains are long and complex, with multiple processing stages and the extent to which material is lost (for example 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: University of Bath

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 in other words 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 Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) UK Centre hub. Lead: University of Leeds

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

Notes for editors

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

EPSRC is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

The Research Councils UK (RCUK) Energy Programme

The SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub is part of the RCUK Energy programme which is led by the EPSRC. The Energy programme is investing more than £625 million in research and skills to pioneer a low carbon future. This builds on an investment of £839 million over the past eight years. The SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub will complement the work of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Sustainable Bioenergy Centre and the centres will be working closely to provide sustainable renewable sources of energy for application in the UK and globally.

The Tyndall Centre

The Tyndall Centre, created in 2000, is a University partnership for interdisciplinary and policy-useful research into climate change mitigation and adaptation. With its Headquarters at the University of East Anglia, the partnership comprises Institutes of the Universities of Manchester, Oxford, Newcastle, Southampton, Sussex, Cambridge, Cardiff and Fudan University in Shanghai.

SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub Partner Institutions

Aston University, University of Bath, University of Leeds, University of Manchester, Newcastle University and Rothamsted Research.

  • Industrial Partners
    Drax, Progressive Energy, Renewable Energy Association, North Energy Associates, Sustainable Energy Ltd, Renewable Energy Systems Carbon, Greenacres, Biomass Energy Centre, Danish Tecnologik Instituit, Dalkia

The University of Manchester

The University of Manchester, a member of the Russell Group, is one of the largest and most popular universities in the UK. It has 20 academic schools and hundreds of specialist research groups undertaking pioneering multi-disciplinary teaching and research of worldwide significance. According to the results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, The University of Manchester is one of the country’s major research institutions, rated third in the UK in terms of ‘research power’. The University had an annual income of £809 million in 2010/11.

Reference: PN 52-12