Norfolk researchers to pioneer a biofuels revolution

Scientists and motor engineers in Norfolk are linking up in a unique partnership aimed at harnessing waste plant material from farming and food producing to turn into clean fuel for the future.

Today marks the official launch of a new Biorefinery Centre at the Institute of Food Research (IFR), where scientists will explore new ways to make use of residual plant material such as straw and brewers' spent grain from food processing and agriculture.

Working with Lotus Engineering and other partners, the IFR team is addressing the challenge of producing fuel with a lower carbon footprint. The biofuel could also combine a performance advantage. The centre is the first in the UK to work on ways of producing 'second generation' biofuels using waste material. It will use a 'steam explosion' technology which can extract sugars from plant stuff and then process it to produce bioalcohol.

Industry partners will also test the commercial viability of the material produced for different sectors.

The bioalcohol generated will also be tested by Lotus in its bi-fuel and tri-fuel engines, with engineers experimenting with optimising combustion and efficiency.

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And while we are still a long way from seeing the fuel at the petrol pump, the hope is that one day cereal farmers across Norfolk, as well as brewers such as Adnams, will be within easy reach of fuel producing processing plants.

Prof Keith Waldron, research leader at IFR, said: 'We only have one world and we are all aware of the problems that beset us – massive increases in population, and huge pressure on resources. And we know that in the future oil and gas is going to run out. At the moment we are all pre-occupied by the financial crisis that we have taken our eyes of this,' he added. 'We produce an awful lot of waste in our society particularly in the agricultural food chain. Millions of tonnes is wasted because we simply haven't had the technology.

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'Once the food part of a crop has been exploited, there is a mass of plant material left behind that is often discarded as waste,' Prof Waldron said. 'With the launch of the pilot plant and through collaborations on the Norwich Research Park, we have all the expertise necessary to help industry explore ways to make use of it,' he said.

The centre will be opened by Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman MP, who is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture.

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