Converting organic waste into sustainable bioenergy and products

The Bioresource and Bioeconomy Research Group at BCU is supporting the development of sustainable, circular bioeconomies.

Lynsey Melville and the team's work will utilise biogas plants and more.

Research background – new ways to support our bioeconomy

In nature, there is no such thing as waste. The Bioresource and Bioeconomy Research Group (BBRG) at BCU, led by Professor Lynsey Melville, are exploring ways to harness the carbon and nutrients embodied in organic waste streams and turn them into sustainable energy, fertilisers and high value products, such as animal feed.

For example, algae has extraordinary potential to support our growing bioeconomy. This diverse organism can soak up nutrients from waste, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and can be used to produce energy and high value products.

How has the research been carried out? – Developing a biogas roadmap

Indonesia is the second largest producer of macroalgae (Seaweed) globally. A project funded by UKRI’s Newton Fund explored the potential of this crop for biogas production.

Working with partners at Brawijaya University, the Ministry for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, and fishing communities, the researchers identified that between 50-80 percent of this crop goes to waste.

The research demonstrated that using this waste biomass could effectively and efficiently be converted to biogas to be used in homes as well as industry, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and driving a transition towards net zero.

The team's research provided several process scenarios, as well as best practice guidelines for biomass pre-treatment. Together with national government and stakeholders, the BBRG team are now in the process of developing a biogas roadmap for the country.

In a similar project, Lynsey and the team are exploring the power of microalgae to capture nutrients from waste streams. AlgAD is a EUR3.7m, transnational partnership, funded by EU’s Interreg IVb programme.

Research aims – creating user-friendly support tools

The AlgAD project aims to demonstrate the technology and process conditions required to grow microalgae on the waste water from a biogas plant.

This nutrient rich waste can be problematic if returned directly to land causing eutrophication of local water sources. Algae can soak up these nutrients and then potentially used for animal feed.

BCU, in collaboration with partners in the UK, Germany, France and Belgium, have captured the key requirements for optimal growth and have evaluated the environmental sustainability and economic viability of the process.

BCU has translated this complex data into a series of user friendly, online tools to support farmers and AD operators to make informed decisions about whether this technology could work for them.

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Lynsey Melville

Senior Researcher

Dr Lynsey Melville is Professor of Environmental Engineering in the Faculty of Computing Engineering and Built Environment. She leads the Biotechnology and Environmental Engineering research group whose focus is on accelerating the adoption of environmentally sustainable and commercially viable energy from biomass. Her vision is to utilise her knowledge, experience and skills to improve the resilience of communities in both the developed and developing world by fostering inclusive, humanitarian engineering approaches to the management and utilisation of biomass.