Faculty of Engineering

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Orla Williams

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Engineering



I am an Assistant Professor in the Advanced Materials Research Group at the University of Nottingham. I am an expert in biomass processing and also Chartered Mechanical Engineer with over 8 years of industrial experience in the rail (Snowdon Mountain Railway), defence aerospace (Rolls-Royce Defence Aerospace), construction (Buro Happold Consulting Engineers) and power sectors (EDF) in the UK and USA.

I completed a Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bath, and worked as a Chartered Building Services Engineer for Buro Happold Consulting Engineers in Bath and Los Angeles for several years prior to starting my EngD. I have also worked as an engineering drawing archivist for the Snowdon Mountain Railway, and as an environmental engineer at Rolls-Royce Defence Aerospace.

I was awarded an Engineering Doctorate from the Efficient Fossil Energy Technology Centre at the University of Nottingham in 2016. During my Engineering Doctorate in conjunction with EDF Energy and the Biomass & Fossil Fuel Research Alliance at the University of Nottingham, I focused on the milling of biomass for power generation. This research formed part of a highly commended 4* REF2021 Impact Case study on renewable fuels.

Between 2018 and 2024 I undertook a prestigious Anne McLaren Research Fellowship investigating sustainable biomass-based processing techniques to produce critical raw materials for the circular economy and the net zero transition.

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Research Summary

My current research focuses on three key themes:

1. Biomass Processing for Bioenergy

I am a recognised world-leading expert in biomass milling. My novel research on biomass milling, started during my Engineering Doctorate (EngD, 2011-2015) at the University of Nottingham, has been developed from an academic technique into a fuel milling performance ranking tool.

The tool is now used by power generators such as Drax to make strategic decisions on fuel selection. This includes multi-million-pound contracts and has resulted in measurable reductions in carbon emissions on a national scale, whilst allowing for wider range of securer and more sustainable biofuels for power generation. This work formed a central part of a highly commended 4* REF2021 Impact Case study on renewable fuels.

I currently have 2 EngDs with Net Zero Research and Drax Power exploring the impact of moisture on biomass pellet production and mitigation strategies for dust formation in biomass pellet transportation systems.

2. Machanochemical Extraction of Critical Raw Materials

I am developing novel methods of recovering critical raw materials from waste streams using mechanochemical processing. This method combines milling and material extraction, taking advantage of the synergistic effect of combining milling and material extraction into one process, reducing energy, processing time and the need for harmful chemicals often found in conventional extraction techniques. I am currently working on projects to recover metals from phytomining wastes using mechanochemical extraction

3. Life Cycle Analysis for Process Optimisation

I have conducted several LCAs in industry and now supervise LCAs for research projects. I am proficient in several LCA software packages including TEAM, Gabi, and Simapro, which I currently use for LCA. I am currently supervising LCA projects on biomass pelleting plants, production of Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) for carbon capture, and hydrogen production in Nigeria.

Recent Publications

Faculty of Engineering

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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