Concerns about global climate change and energy security are driving the search for viable alternatives to fossil fuels. Scientists across the University are playing a leading role in investigating some of these alternatives.
Two Southampton research teams are working with the Carbon Trust as part of a UK ‘dream team’ of top scientists to find a world-beating formula for algal biofuels. By 2020 the Carbon Trust’s Algal Biofuels Challenge aims to achieve a five- to 10-fold reduction in algae production costs to enable algae biofuels to be sold as a premium fuel blend.
The teams are working in two areas: improving the ability of algae to convert sunlight into energy – and biofuel – by photosynthesis, and minimising the cost and energy inputs needed for large-scale algae cultivation.
Dr Tom Bibby, lecturer in biological oceanography, says: “The Carbon Trust has targeted algal biofuel as a future economy for the UK and identified the University of Southampton as a research centre that provides the expertise in biology, oceanography and engineering to realise this potential.”
Professor Gail Taylor of the Centre for Biological Sciences has a longstanding interest in the potential of fast-growing trees as a source of sustainable energy. One EU-funded project aims to enable woody plant material to be used more efficiently for heat, electricity and liquid fuels, with less cost to the environment. Gail also leads a national team tracking the path of carbon that is captured by trees and grasses through the process of photosynthesis.
Gail explains: “Using trees and grasses is an efficient and cost-effective way of providing a source of energy and offsetting CO2 emissions from equivalent fossil fuels. Our research has already shown that bioenergy crops such as trees and grasses could potentially reduce carbon emissions by several million tonnes in the UK over the next decade.”