During lockdown, BRISK2 has been speaking to Work Package Leaders for their reflections on the project and on the future of renewable energy. Researcher Stefan Retschitzegger (pictured below) from Bioenergy and Sustainable Technologies (BEST) in Austria, shared his thoughts with us.
The importance of BRISK2
BRISK2 allows research institutes to develop new methods and technologies within the sphere of biofuels. At the heart of the project is the transnational access programme which allows researchers outside of BRISK2 to access specialised infrastructures that their home research institutes do not have. At BEST we have had a lot of interest in our facilities, especially for small scale targeted investigations for specific processes. Some of this infrastructure was partly funded by BRISK1 and it is extremely rewarding and positive that this continues to bear fruit.
BRISK2 includes joint research activities too. That means we can share knowledge and cooperate with our peers, creating a culture of research efficiency. We do an experiment once and share the results, not several times at several locations in Europe individually. And by working together we learn from each and improve our methods. For example, in Work Package 5, we are developing ways of characterising new feedstocks and we are sharing this data.
Each Work Package also has lots of small scale tasks to carry out which feeds into and develops infrastructure. For example, our work on gas characterisation and measurement systems has already been taken on board in other projects.
At BEST, we are looking at converting biomass into energy in the most efficient and economic way possible and in a way that can be applied in real life. So alongside being a researcher, I also work with industry, leading the group for medium and large scale conversion system, such as improving biomass-fired district heating plants.
A very real benefit is how the partners in BRISK2 complement one another. For example, CERTH in Greece provides feedstock analyses for all partners in WP5 allowing a common basis for the evaluation of our work, while CENER in Spain uses our results from combustion tests with different feedstocks to calibrate their simulation tools. There is a mutual exchange of knowledge.
BRISK2 is a project that has expanded my horizons. I’ve observed what fellow experts and scientists across the project are working on. I have had the surprise, from a scientific point of view of learning about Wageningen University & Research’s innovative work with proteins. Then there is SINTEF in Norway, that looks at processes from an economic point of view, which is not a focus of my personal work.
Pictured left is the combustion of a single pellet in BEST’s Single Particle Reactor, a test rig that is on offer via BRISK2.
Like with many other institutes though, COVID-19 has impacted research. Labs have closed, and institutions and infrastructures both large and small – and of course, BRISK2 transnational access trips will need re-arranging. Looking ahead, I believe we need breakthroughs in policy. We have the scientific knowledge, but now we need the framework for using it. However, industry will not change while fossil fuels remain as cheap as they are. Renewable resources such as biomass need to be more attractive. Climate change is a big issue. We can and need to do something and now is a good time to act. For starters, I think it is overdue to put a proper price on CO2 emissions.
We have looked at using biomass for heat and electricity but we see a trend towards using it for biogenic materials. In other words, replacing fossil materials such as plastics and coal, with for example, biochar. Biochar can be used to enhance polymers to make them more robust. It can also be used in the high voltage electrical industry and fossil coal from being in the objects. Pictured below, researchers at BEST, Austria.