Research by Professor Ed Lester and Dr Orla Williams has been pivotal in changing practices creating a greener future for the power industry. Collaborating with major European energy providers to help them implement the Renewable Energy Directive 2009 - requiring generators to produce at least 15% of their energy from renewable sources - they researched ways to characterise new renewable fuels, such as agrifuels, biomass sources and Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) – a mixture of recycled materials from fabrics to paper to plastics.

Using visual, microscopy and thermal techniques, they were successful in developing characterisation techniques to identify unique ‘fingerprints’ for renewable materials, illustrating how they release volatiles and burn in a power station. It is virtually impossible to characterise and quantify RDF contents using any technique other than this thermal fingerprinting method. These techniques have underpinned key changes for the power generation industry supporting the development of new carbon neutral fuels, the conversion of power plants to use RDF pellets, and improving safety practices for the monitoring and storage of RDF.

Further research into thermal fingerprinting identified a way of determining the self-heating potential of RDF and the associated risk of explosions during storage. This research enabled a UK energy company to transition their power station to new biomass fuels leading to a reduction of net CO2 emissions of over 16m tonnes a year, the annual equivalent of taking 3.5m cars off the road.



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