Enhanced Rice Straw Biogas project secures international development funding

Dr Mirjam Röder of the Supergen Bioenergy Hub based at Aston University, has helped to successfully secure funding over the next two years for the new “Enhanced Rice Straw Biogas” project.

The project will focus on optimising a rice straw to biogas system, whilst improving the livelihoods and socio-economic development of small-scale subsistence farmers in the Philippines. The work, funded by Innovate UK (part of UK Research and Innovation), and the Department for International Development (DFID), will build on the success of the previous “Rice Straw to Biogas (R2B) Project”. This was a joint initiative between Straw Innovations Ltd, Supergen Bioenergy Hub, QUBE Renewables and the University of Southampton, which aimed to capture some of the 300 million tonnes of rice straw burned in Asia each year and transform it into clean fuel and opportunities for rural prosperity.

The new funding will see Aston University continue to collaborate with project leader Straw Innovation Ltd, as well as new partner the University of the Philippines, Los Baños (UPLB) in order to maximise the benefits of biogas production from rice straw. It combines pre-commercial operation of a test facility with academic research, to generate an affordable and robust technical solution for rural communities. Business models have been developed around the mechanisation of straw harvesting, and a range of end products including energy, compost and mushrooms, creating opportunities for new jobs and training. Dr Röder notes: “The biogas plant can provide a technical solution for environmental issues, but to make it work, the local community needs to be able to participate in the development to create wider benefits in line with their needs. This also means you have to consider factors beyond technology and climate change.”

With around 150 million small-scale rice farming households in Asia, the next phase of the project has the potential to benefit economic development across the region, whilst addressing the environmental impact of rice straw burning.

The funding was awarded as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and Transforming Energy Access (TEA) programme, aimed at supporting highly innovative, market-focused energy solutions which encourage the development of products and services that help countries in the Global South access secure, low-cost and low-carbon energy.

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For more information please contact Dan Taylor, Stakeholder Engagement Manager at d.taylor2@aston.ac.uk.

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About Supergen Bioenergy Hub

The Supergen Bioenergy Hub works with academia, industry, government and societal stakeholders to develop sustainable bioenergy systems that support the UK’s transition to an affordable, resilient, low-carbon energy future. The hub is based at Aston University under the direction of Professor Patricia Thornley, and management is undertaken by representatives of the core academic institutions. The hub is funded jointly by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is part of the wider Supergen Programme.

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston is led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions – along with our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city, and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive.

About Straw Innovations Ltd.

Straw Innovations Ltd was started in December 2016 with the purpose of making better use of Asia’s leftover rice straw. The company is developing an integrated process that will use this vast resource to produce more food and fuel. Working with farmers in Laguna, Philippines, and its consortium partners, it has set up a low-cost technology for making biogas from rice straw.

About University of Philippines, Los Baños (UPLB)

UP Los Baños is the country’s recognised leader in agriculture, forestry, and environmental management. It is host to two international research institutions: The International Rice Research Institute and the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture. As a pioneer in forest conservation, UP Los Baños has stewardship over the 4,244-hectare Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve.