Although The Archies were definitely talking about sweet treats, Gina Castell talks to Miriam Röder about hub research using the sweet stuff for its own purposes.
Gina Castell explains why.
‘What goes up, must come down.’ – Isaac Newton.
The famous quote resonates with the project ‘Real Time Control of Gasifiers’, albeit with a few tweaks. The idea behind the project is what goes in, must come out: by controlling what we put into the gasifier, we can control what gas comes out of it. The project is about finely tuning the bioenergy apparatus, so it will run better and give off better quality gas, reducing harmful emissions once and for all.
Why so controlling?
Not all biomass is exactly the same, like how no two humans are exactly the same. Different biomass have a different make-up, so they create different products (varying gas, tar, ext.). Biomass is also seasonal. In one season you find one biomass, and in another season you find another, just like seasonal fruit and veg. To deal with this, it’s necessary to control the gasifier so it works with all the different types of raw material, come summer or winter.
A year since starting up, the project has looked at the need for temperature control. When temperature is controlled inside the gasifer, we control the product gas it creates. The project also looks at how balancing the air to fuel ratio helps give off better gas.
However, control is influenced by results from experimentation. The project mainly experiments with Miscanthus, a plant biomass, in the UK. There is also experimentation with control techniques, as we need something to measure, and the idea is to develop cheap ways to monitor tar. Two techniques being used are flame analysis and fluorescence. In flame analysis, if we put oil on a flame, it changes from blue to yellow. So we can see how much tar is in the gas simply by looking at the colour of the flame. However, fluorescence is not so easy. The gasifier is loaded with all sorts of things, all emitting different wavelengths. As a result, the researchers need to be selective with the wavelengths they decide to detect for tar.
Tar creates a sticky situation, clogging up pipes in the apparatus. The danger is that when this ‘unclean’ gas is used in gas turbines, the tar will get stuck to the turbine blades, reducing the effectiveness of aero-energy. To remove this danger, we simply optimise the temperature so less tar is produced.
In short, the goal is to reduce harmful emissions. A controlled system, one that is finely tuned to work with all sorts of biomass, will giveway to a new and improved gas. If we can get better quality gas, we can reduce emissions. Simple.
So we’re one step closer to a cleaner atmosphere.
Time to take control and embrace the wonder gas!
Words by Gina Castellheim
Gina Castell collects bite-size version of innovate hub research going on at Newcastle. Find out how Professor Adam Harvey searches for the new ‘fossil fuel’ of the world.
Gina Castell in conversation with Prof. Patricia Thornley at Aston University, exposes the environmental issues, climate change benefits and social impacts.
The Rice Straw project in the Philippines is really about two things. Firstly, there is a really big problem with rice straw. Farmers only have a short amount of time before they need to grow the next crop. There isn’t enough time to let the straw degrade naturally so people take the shortcut and burn the rice straw instead, despite this being illegal. This leads to catastrophic pollution problems.
Rice straw burning happens all across Southeast Asia and India, not just the Philippines. A big part of what the project hopes to do is offer people alternatives, where waste rice straw can be quickly removed and the land freed for the next crop, without the massive pollution.
Energy access is also a big part of the project. At the moment, there are 1.2 billion people in the world with no access to clean energy. Although many have access to biomass material, most simply burn it for cooking fuel. If we can swap what goes on now for something much cleaner, then we can improve health and improve peoples lives.
Researchers believe that rice straw should be used as biomass for many purposes, including heat, light, cooking, manufacturing materials and transport fuel. Using biomass in this way leads to improved mobility, trade, educational opportunities and safer well-lit communities. This will transform rural areas and empower local people.
There is also the question of gender. Women in developing countries spend hours collecting firewood on a daily basis. But if rice straw were collected instead, the time spent and distance walked would be much less.
Expanding population in parts of the world comes as a warning. If people continue to collect firewood and use it inefficiently, deforestation will result. We are already struggling with deforestation, which is highly unsustainable for the planet. We’re not saying that all the rice straw could be used, but even if 20% could be harnessed, then we could get energy from that.
Prof. Thornley predicts that future global rice straw will occur in Vietnam and Southern India, particularly Punjab, where we see the biggest pollution problem from rice straw burning.
To sum up, the rice straw project is about resolving the environmental problem, whilst socially empowering developing countries through this new access to energy.
It’s an exciting time to be a rice farmer!
Words by Gina Castellheim