Alternative energy experts gather in Glasgow

Some of the world's leading biofuels scientists are gathering at the University of Glasgow to help launch the university's new Solar and Bioenergy Research Centre. The centre aims to develop renewable fuels to minimise climate pollution.

Solar and Bio Energy research at the University of Glasgow spans the faculties of Biomedical & Life Sciences, Engineering, Information & Mathematical Sciences, and Physical Sciences.  The focus of the centre is to develop renewable energy technologies with low or zero net carbon emissions.  To achieve this goal a multidisciplinary team is targeting the following key areas of research in

- Biofuel Crops. Development of BioFuel crops for high biomass production on marginal land.
- Biomimetic Systems. Application of biological principles to designing efficient artificial systems for converting sunlight into liquid biofuels.
- Catalysis. Development of catalysts for generating liquid biofuels from carbon dioxide and complex biopolymers such as lignocellulose.
- Microbial Fuel Cells. Development of microbial fuel cells for generating electricity, and liquid and gaseous biofuels from organic waste and sunlight.
As part of the launch of the Centre, the University is hosting a symposium bringing together UK and European groups engaged in solar energy and bioenergy production.  It has attracted delegates from the disciplines of engineering, physical sciences, and the biological sciences to assess the capacity for research in the UK and to identify opportunities for collaboration.

Plant scientist Dr Peter Dominy, from the Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences, said: “In the scramble to generate ‘alternatives’ the energy industry appears to have dismissed the prospect of producing energy from biofuel crops or solar farms in the UK pointing to the lack of sunshine and poor returns from seasonal production. 

“If their assertions are correct, why then do migratory birds put themselves through the considerable hardship of vacationing and breeding in the UK – for the weather?  Well, surprisingly, the answer is yes; during the summer season the long days and adequate rainfall conspire to produce vigorous growth in the UK, better than that experienced in many sub-tropical regions, and for birds that means more energy.

“This naturally high seasonal productivity could be turned to the UK’s advantage by growing ‘Second Generation’ biofuel crops on marginal land so they do not compete for resources with food crop production. 

“Recent data from Professor Steve Long from the University of Illinois on second generation, carbon-neutral biofuel crops in the USA suggests an area half the size of the Scottish Highlands could supply all of the UK’s current mineral oil demands.

“The symposium will be looking at this along with other areas including mimicking natural systems to generate electricity; how to extract the sugar from wood and turn that into alcohols for combustion in conventional car engines, the use of micro-organisms to derive energy from domestic and industrial waste."

The Solar and Bioenergy Research Centre

First published: 1 September 2008