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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Options for Using Biomass for Electricity Generation in England

Jason Porter

Options for Using Biomass for Electricity Generation in England

This study posits that the generation of electricity from waste biomass offers genuinely sustainable energy attractive to government, industry and consumers. In contrast to controversial “food for fuel” agricultural crops, waste biomass is readily available, low in cost and may even provide savings when disposal costs and climate change impacts are considered.

The commitment of various levels of government to energy generation from waste biomass is analysed by reviewing legislative initiatives that support it, from both the waste feedstock and the electricity production aspects. In Meeting the Energy Challenge: A White Paper on Energy and the Waste Strategy for England 2007, the UK Government embraces (waste) biomass energy as a step towards meeting its European Union and international climate change obligations while addressing the rapidly growing demand for electricity. Energy from waste biomass also offers reductions in the volume of organic waste sent to landfill as required by the EU Landfill Directive.

The major sources of waste biomass in England are briefly discussed with particular attention to food waste, its energy conversion potential and the volume produced in the UK. Three conversion technologies - anaerobic digestion, waste vegetable oil recovery and algae farming (algaculture) - are analysed in detail. This analysis is the basis of a case study which demonstrates how the coupling of two or more! conversion technologies could assist an energy from food waste operation achieve greater efficiency: the byproducts from each system being used to feed one another, producing additional energy while minimising waste and pollution.

The conclusion shows that energy from food waste has the potential to be a highly efficient and profitable source of electricity with a wide range of secondary benefits within the wider context of sustainability.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.