Bioenergy research hub powers up

The efficiency and whole-life impact of bioenergy is to be probed under a new research hub, which will investigate the practicalities of various technology streams and their outputs.

The Supergen bioenergy hub spans six research institutions and involves ten industrial partners. Initially it will address 10 projects ranging from turning biomass into transport fuels to capturing CO2 from burning biomass feedstocks.

The work, which starts next month, is being led by Dr Patricia Thornley from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University. She said it would “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.”

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 food waste and slurry.

One 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.

Turning biomass into transport fuels is another 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.

Maxine Perella

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