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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/K036793/1
Title: Increasing energy yield from the integration of anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis
Principal Investigator: Bridgwater, Professor AV
Other Investigators:
Wilkinson, Dr RG Heaven, Emeritus Professor S Levidow, Dr L
Theodorou, Professor MK Banks, Professor C Upham, Professor P
Hornung CEng FIChemE FRSC, Professor A
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr M Kirby
Project Partners:
Anaeorbic Digestion and Biogas Assoc BIOGEN (UK) Ltd Biojoule One LLP
IEA Bioenergy Lend Lease Marches Energy Agency
Technology Strategy Board (Innovate UK) WSE Ltd
Department: Sch of Engineering and Applied Science
Organisation: Aston University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 30 September 2013 Ends: 29 September 2017 Value (£): 901,123
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
27 Feb 2013 SUPERGEN Bioenergy Challenge Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Biomass-based energy processes are frequently cited as a great opportunity but also a risk because of their competition for productive arable land used for food production. Virgin crop biomass is much easier to use for energy production and for this reason is the basis of first generation biofuel production. Waste and mixed biomass sources are more difficult to process into usable fuel products, and the key research challenges therefore lie in developing technologies to provide second generation biofuels from these waste sources. The vision for the proposed research is to develop a synergy between biological (AD) and thermal (intermediate and fast pyrolysis) conversion processes in which the overall net energy yield from waste biomass can be improved, producing energy carriers that are both storable and transportable. These gains can be achieved as the thermal process allows access to lignin-bound components within the biomass which are otherwise unavailable for anaerobic biological conversion. In return, biological system can process the lower carbon chain molecules in pyrolysis oils and in the aqueous fraction to produce a fuel gas, thus improving the value of the liquid fuel fraction. The solid char also has potential for use as an energy carrier as well as other value-added uses.

The vision includes proving that this hybrid approach can provide a sustainable and societally acceptable means of recovering value from the non-source segregated organic fraction of municipal solid waste (MSW). This waste fraction currently poses the greatest challenge to the UK Government in terms of the requirement for diversion of organic materials generated by society, industry and commerce from landfill: whilst it also offers the potential to contribute significantly to renewable energy targets and to the offset of carbon emissions. This is proposal is therefore closely aligned to the aims of the SUPERGEN call 'Challenges in Bioenergy Technologies' and also to several areas within the RCUK research portfolio on energy, bioenergy and living with environmental change.

At the heart of the project is a new thermal processing technology, intermediate pyrolysis, which can use feedstocks with higher water content than fast pyrolysis thus, increasing the potential for direct process integration with commercial AD plants. This technology is currently available for use in the project at a large pilot scale (up to 100 kg hour-1), ensuring that adequate quantities of material will be available for in-house use in AD trials at a scale allowing realistic estimation of energy balances. Plans are already in place for up-scaling of the pyrolysis side of the process through the construction of five demonstration plants around Europe within the next three years.

Increasing the energy yield obtained from the initial feed stock (MSW) is vital, as future energy generation technologies will need to become more efficient compared to current technologies. Having localised energy generation systems (for example combined pyrolysis and AD) will reduce the transmission distance for electricity which will in turn reduce energy losses and reduce the UK reliance on foreign fuel supply. Focusing this project upon the utilisation of MSW will provide a possible use for the organic fraction of MSW and increase the UK's generation of sustainable energy. The proposed research is therefore ideally timed to develop bespoke AD solutions for the digestion of the different fractions produced from pyrolysis (oil phase, water phase, vapours and gaseous fractions), in order to optimise the energy yield obtained from a critically important waste feedstock. In addition the project will also address the range of social and regulatory factors that need to be better understood if this vision is to gain acceptance and deliver its perceived benefits.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.aston.ac.uk