Aston University develops portable bioenergy facility

Researchers at Aston University have developed a new portable technology called Pyrofab to convert organic waste materials, even including baby wipes, into carbon neutral fuel and biochar.

The Pyrofab is based on Pyroformer technology, developed in the UK by the European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University.

The Pyrofab has the ability to process a wide range of biomass, residues, and wastes, unlocking the potential of hard-to-treat sources of waste to be used as a feedstock to produce low carbon energy.

Feedstocks being tested include food waste, domestic waste, agricultural waste such as pig manure, and industrial waste. 

The Pyrofab system consists of two parts, each small enough to fit in a single shipping container: a conversion technology containing a Pyroformer, which uses intermediate pyrolysis to convert waste materials into products, and a monitoring lab and results analysis facility.

The Pyrofab is compact, transportable, and can work with existing generation technology, which means waste can be locally sourced, reducing the environmental impact of transportation and reliance on overseas imports of biomass such as wood. 

According to Aston University, the Pyrofab will – once fully developed – offer businesses and local authorities access to the emerging bioenergy market, stimulating rural economies and reducing waste management costs.

The bioenergy market in the UK alone is expected to be worth £12 billion (nearly €17 billion) in the next decade, and demand for bioenergy is expected to increase by 49% between 2012 and 2040.

According to the European Commission, bioenergy could account for up to two thirds of its target to generate 27% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. 

Pyrofab prototypes are set to tour four sites in North West Europe, hosted by partners in an EU INTERREG IVB funded project - BioenNW – and will then return to the UK.

Results from pre-testing work that has taken place at EBRI (lead partner of BioenNW) and the tour itself will be included in BioenNW’s business support tool, designed to help businesses make bioenergy investment decisions.

The tool is part of BioenNW’s work funded by the European Union to support companies, organisations, and local authorities to deliver local bioenergy. 

Professor Tony Bridgwater, director of the EBRI, says baby wipes and leftovers might not be the first thing to spring to mind when thinking about future energy security, but they may have an important role to play.

‘The Pyrofab unlocks the potential of waste, producing sustainable carbon neutral bioenergy and biofuels. This has the potential to change a significant liability for businesses and local authorities across North West Europe into a home grown resource, to reduce waste management costs, and generate new revenue streams through the derived products,’ Bridgwater says 

‘It could also play a significant part in delivering Europe’s environmental targets and improve energy security; making use of our own resources to reduce the need for imports.’

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