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Aston University will expand its research and business partnerships in new low carbon chemical markets with government backing for its 5BIO Midlands Research Accelerator project.

The 5BIO scheme, part of a £60m government Energy Research Accelerator project announced today by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, will allow the UK to develop stronger access to the alternative energy market. The projected global annual market for renewable chemicals could reach £360 billion by 2025, with £12billion in the UK alone. For transport fuels the current global market is £1,000 billion per year and £50 billion a year in the UK*.

5BIO is set up to tackle the ‘grand challenges’ of developing low carbon energy, combatting climate change, and creating new businesses and jobs in the Midlands and new exports for the UK. It will increase Aston University’s research and its industrial collaborations across the low carbon sector and help bring new bioenergy products to market. This will include developing useful low carbon bio-products and fuels developed from renewable organic matter, which can benefit the future of automotive, aerospace, energy and rail manufacturing industries and in-turn help achieve climate change goals.

Based at the University’s European Bioenergy Research Institute (EBRI), the Research Accelerator will stimulate innovation and knowledge transfer between businesses, scientists and chemical engineers across renewable biomass, biorefining, bioenergy, biofuels and bio-products.

EBRI’s current facilities include a demonstration power plant, thermal processors, and laboratories which allow companies to explore and develop practical bioenergy solutions. Today’s announcement will allow Aston to increase its research and advisory work with businesses. It will see the development of new laboratories, training facilities and business spaces on its campus to increase its existing collaborations between scientists and business. The funding will provide even greater capability to investigate high value chemicals alongside renewable energy generation and energy systems.

EBRI is already developing technologies for business that are capable of turning organic waste products such as sewage sludge, garden and crop waste into heat, power and electrical sources, for use in everything from powering electric vehicles to providing a low carbon heat network for cities. EBRI’s demonstrator power plant unit is able to produce enough power from waste materials to power Aston University’s campus and will soon be able to produce a surplus to provide power for electric vehicles and Birmingham’s District Heating Scheme.

George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said;

“The Midlands is an engine of manufacturing growth so we are today giving the go ahead to the £60 million investment in the new Energy Research Accelerator that they have sought.”
Dame Professor Julia King, Vice Chancellor of Aston University, said:

“The opportunities for the creation of an internationally leading research and development institute for low carbon thermal technologies based around biomass, bioenergy, biofuels and biorefineries is enormous. It will empower the region and allow Aston and other midlands universities to take a global leadership position in the new high growth strategic market of low carbon energy and renewable chemicals.“
Professor Bjorn Birgisson, Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of Engineering and Applied Science at Aston, added:

“The continued success of the UK chemicals sector, one of the UK’s most high-value manufacturing sectors and worth £60 billion per annum*, will be defined by our ability to maintain a competitive edge by implementing such new technologies and in-turn reduce dependence on fossil energy, achieve climate change goals and maintain UK competitiveness in global markets. The knowledge, expertise and relationships at Aston University present the opportunity to accelerate development to make the Midlands region the centre of this industry.”
The Aston University project is part of the £60m Energy Research Accelerator scheme which will build upon the expertise of six leading midland universities. The project involves the universities of Aston; Birmingham; Nottingham; Leicester; Loughborough and Warwick working with the British Geological Survey and multiple industry partners from across the Midlands region.

*Facts and figures concerning the UK and global biotechnology market are taken from a 2009 report by the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, entitled ‘Maximising UK Opportunities from Industrial Biotechnology in a Low Carbon Economy’. The report is available to read here.

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