Multi million pound biomass project is launched

A £20 million initiative is under way in Wales that could open up new commercial avenues for farmers able to grow crops such as ryegrass, oats, miscanthus and other “greens”.

The BEACON bio-refining centre at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) is one of the first of its kind in the UK and houses large-scale equipment capable of taking laboratory research and scaling it up to produce commercial products, services and technologies.

By using techniques known as bio-refining, the aim is to assist companies to adopt low carbon technologies and introduce new ways of making products traditionally made from oil.

The need for a re-appraisal of how best to produce such commodities is also being strengthened by the massive strain on such finite resources by the current worldwide consumption and demand for fossil derived fuels, given the rapidly expanding economies of India and China.

Essentially fossil fuels are made of organic matter, such as dead plants and animals, which over millions of years have been transformed by high temperatures and pressure.

The alternative approach being taken by the BEACON initiative is to make transport fuels or chemicals from plant biomass by using bio-refining.

It takes organic material, such as plants, and uses a series of mechanical, biological and chemical processes to convert the bio-mass into commercially important products – providing an alternative income source for farmers as well.

Already the facilities are enabling commercial companies develop new ways of converting crops into a range of products based around chemicals, fuels and cosmetics.

They include such items as plastic beer glasses, paper plates, wood preservatives, bio-degradable composting bags, fibre insulation board, decking boarding and bio polymers.

BEACON is being led by Aberystwyth University in collaboration with partners at Bangor and Swansea Universities and is backed with £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

  • To follow Farmers Guardian’s renewable expert Olivia Midgley on Twitter for to @FGoliviamidgley

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