The Reporter
No 490, 19 May 2003
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Plant power project takes root in Leeds


Leeds is to jointly head a new research consortium seeking to make power out of plants.

The consortium, managed together with Aston University and funded by a £3m EPSRC grant, will look at energy generation through biomass – any plant material which can be used as fuel, such as wood, agricultural waste and vegetable oils. Biomass still accounts for just 0.25% of the UK’s energy, but it is seen as one route to meeting EU targets for reduction of CO2 emissions and increased use of renewable energy.

Jenny Jones and Lelani DarvellDr Jenny Jones from fuel and energy (pictured left with co-researcher Lelani Darvell) said: “The big advantage of biomass over fossil fuels is that it is almost CO2-neutral – the carbon dioxide released when it burns is equivalent to that used by the plants as they grow, so that overall CO2 emissions from power generation are lower.”

The consortium is bringing together people at all stages of biomass energy production, from farmers growing the crops, researchers looking at how best to use them and the power generators themselves. They will also be looking at possible negative impacts of biomass on the environment or the rural economy, to ensure energy production is sustainable. One issue is how farming practices may need to adjust to the different requirements of an energy crop as opposed to the traditional production of food crops.

“To ensure a high yield, some crops might require fertilisers, but these can have detrimental effects on the chemical processes involved in power production. Another issue is ensuring a year-round supply despite the seasonal nature of the crop,” said Dr Jones.

Biomass can be burned directly to generate power, or treated to create gas or oils to be used as fuel. At Leeds, researchers will be studying the thermal behaviour of different biomass fuels, and what metals are released on processing. Their results will be used to create computer models for designing and maximising the efficiency of the thermal processes, and to identify the ideal specifications of biomass fuels for different processes.

Other partners include the universities of Ulster, UMIST, Sheffield and Cranfield, Rothamsted Research Institute and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. Industrial partners are Powergen, Alstom, Rural Generation Ltd and B9 Energy Biomass Ltd.

While the initial funding is for four years, the long-term aim is to increase industrial interest and establish a research network carrying out fundamental research into biofuels and industrial research on behalf of the growers and generators.

The Leeds researchers (l-r) Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, Professor Alan Williams, Dr Jenny Jones, Professor Paul Williams and Lelani Darvell


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