Missing link in the gasification of biomass could solve global fuel problems

Professor Behdad Moghtaderi with Dr Kalpit Shah (right)
Professor Behdad Moghtaderi with Dr Kalpit Shah (right)

A breakthrough sustainable energy technology at the University of Newcastle (UON) could help solve the challenge of rural electrification in lowerincome countries.

The $1.1 million project will establish a demonstration site of the technology in India, which could then be deployed to other nations.

The project is being led by Dr Kalpit Shah and Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, both based at UON’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), and is aimed at solving a missing link in the gasification of biomass using agricultural waste and by-product to generate heat and electricity.

Professor Behdad Moghtaderi said the technology could have implications for almost two billion people globally who do not have access to fuels such as oil and gas.

“Inadequate access to energy threatens human health, economic growth and limits opportunities for education. This project is an example of the role Australia can play in supporting global economic development,” he said.

“By collaborating with industry, we can apply research knowledge to real world problems with great impact.”

Dr Shah said the demonstration plant will address key issues including fuel flexibility, tar removal and heat recovery in the gasifier.

“Our research will deliver the science to overcome the technological barriers associated with biomass utilisation, enabling this sustainable energy technology to be rolled out on a global scale,” he said.

VTara Energy Group – the industry partner funding the project – currently has several projects in southern India using biomass, solar and hydro technologies. Chairman and chief executive officer Clive Stephens said tar removal was a long-standing barrier to cost-effectively utilising gas from biomass to generate electricity.

“Removal of tar by-products from biomass gas is a known problem in successful and cost-effective conversion into electricity. By working with UON we can achieve our goal of implementing ground-breaking sustainable energy technology in a region with limited existing resources,” Mr Stephens said.

The demonstration plant, due for implementation in 2017, will initially generate power and heat for a village district in the state of Karnataka and is supported by the University’s Priority Research Centre for Frontier Energy Technology and Utilisation, NIER and Newcastle Innovation.