While research into alternative, low carbon or carbon neutral fuels is important to meet ambitious carbon reduction targets, conventional fossil fuels still contribute more than 85% of global energy sources.

We are engaged in research exploring new technologies for the efficient and clean conversion of the wide range of fuel types into the other required forms of energy, heat and power. These fuels include:

  • Coal – from lignites to hard coals and anthracites
  • Oil and oil shales
  • Natural and unconventional gas
  • Synthetic natural gas – from coal gasification
  • Hydrogen – derived from fossil fuels and bio-sources
  • Biomass – energy crops and waste sources, e.g. straw
  • Biogas – from anaerobic digestion and other biochemical processes
  • Biomethane – from the gasification of biomass
  • Bio-liquids – from thermal and biochemical processes
  • Micro-algae and derivative bio-liquid transport fuels
  • Syngas – from pyrolysis and gasification (including underground coal gasification)
  • Waste derived fuels – either untreated or processes as Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) or Solid
  • Recovered Fuel (SRF) from fractions of waste streams with a high energy content; typically paper, plastics, textiles and wood.

About our research

Our greatest strength is the ability to combine the academic rigour and long-term perspective of a university with the commercial and business focus of industry.

Our excellence in strategic and applied research has enabled us to make significant contributions to the world around us for over 60 years. We address real life challenges and focus on research that is of strategic and practical importance.

We provide a supportive research community for students and our academic work is regularly published in journal article, book or thesis form.

Our facilities

Extensive, pilot-scale facilities are available onsite supporting research and analytical equipment for fuels research.

Anaerobic Digestion Pilot Plant – used to optimise digestion with materials such as algae and food waste and to examine the fate of hazardous substances. We undertake laboratory-scale feedstock and end-product analysis, along with pilot-scale trials. Full flow cold temperature anaerobic wastewater treatment is possible to increase biogas production and reduce aeration demands. This plant will be directly linked to a 50kWth combustion engine in the near future to allow direct assessment of biogas characteristics on engine performance and emissions.

200kWth Circulating Fluidised Bed Combustor/Gasifier Pilot Plant – this fully-instrumented unit can be used to investigate the air/oxygen combustion of a wide range of biomass or waste feedstocks to assess process efficiency and environmental impact in terms of CO2 emissions, conventional pollutants (SOx, NOx, CO) and unburned hydrocarbons (PAHs, dioxins and furans), as well as the full suite of heavy metals. As a gasifier, it can use a range of fossil, biomass and waste fuels and includes downstream high temperature filtration, sorbent injection for CO2/H2S/HCl reduction and selective oxidation for NH3 reduction, as well as test sections for the exposure of candidate materials and monitoring devices.

150kWth Pulverised Fuel and Fluidised Bed Combustor Pilot Plant (for air- and oxy-firing) – this unit has been extensively used to support the development of biomass co-firing in the UK. It has removable radiant and convective heat exchanger tubes for materials performance and fouling/slagging studies combined with a comprehensive gas analysis capability. The fluidised bed unit has been widely used to evaluate the combustion performance, emissions and agglomeration behaviour using a wide range of biomass and waste feedstocks.

75kWth Spouted Fluidised Bed Gasifier – capable of processing solid fuels (including coal, waste and biomass) at up to 15kg/h. Varying degrees of downstream cleaning can be used. The bed can be fluidised using air and/or steam and has facilities for bed sorbent additions. Cooled probes for deposition and materials studies can be added along the hot gas path. The system has on-line gas analysis and process parameter monitoring with continuous data logging. We also have a 50kWth downdraught gasifier for fixed bed studies.

Single Phase Water Facilities – the water flow loop can deliver up to 450 m3/h of water to pipes up to 300 mm. The flow loop is extensively used in flow meter development.

Multiphase Flow Facility – this unique and fully automated high pressure facility is the largest amongst universities in the UK. Oil, water and air flow rates are individually metered and controlled. The facility supplies to two (4” and 2”) flowline (50m) and riser (11m) loops. The research work using this facility is mainly concerned with issues related to multiphase flow assurance and flow measurement.

In addition to the facilities highlighted above, we have a full range of biomass/waste preparation facilities, including drying and pelletisation. We also routinely use our combustion rigs, combustion engines and gas turbines to evaluate the performance and emissions of simulated bio- and waste-derived fuel gases.

Working with us

We are internationally renowned for working closely with industry. We partner with many leading businesses in this area to deliver innovative solutions to their real-life problems.

Our world-class academics have proven research records and are in constant touch with industry whether through education, delivery of short courses or providing consultancy.  

Our research benefits from the strong synergy that has been developed between the science, engineering and management disciplines ensuring that concepts and solutions can be employed by modern day business.

Clients and partners

We frequently work with a number of research and industrial clients. We can provide one-to-one consultancy solutions or work as part of a consortium of partners.

Funding/Research partners include:

• Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
• Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC)
• East of England Development Agency (EEDA)
• Energy Technologies Institute (ETI)
• Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
• European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
• Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
• Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

Business clients we have worked with include:

• Alstom Power
• Doosan Babcock
• EDF Energy
• E.ON
• Rolls Royce
• Siemens Power Generation.