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Biomass and GHG removal to be the main areas of focus at new Aston University training centre

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A consortium led by Aston University is to receive £11 million to open a doctoral training centre focussed on the use of biomass to replace fossil fuels and removal (or capture) of GHG emissions, including CO2, from the atmosphere, with the potential to create new sources of fuels and chemicals.

The NET2Zero centre, based at Aston University, will bring together world-leading research expertise and facilities from the University of Nottingham, Queens University Belfast, the University of Warwick and more than 25 industrial partners to train PhD students across the full range of engineered greenhouse gas removal techniques including direct air capture, CO2 utilisation (including chemical and material synthesis), biomass to energy with carbon capture and storage, and biochar. 

Announced by the UK science, innovation and technology secretary Michelle Donelan, the funding includes almost £8 million of government money, with the remainder being made up through match funding and support from industry and the four universities. The government has described it as part of the UK’s biggest-ever investment in engineering and physical sciences doctoral skills, totalling more than £1 billion.

Students at the centre will explore the conversion of biomass feedstock into alternative energy, improving conversion processes and measuring how the new technologies will impact the economy, supported by a range of relevant industrial, academic and policy partners to help students develop the broad range of skills needed by the next generation of decarbonisation experts.

NET2Zero will be led by Professor Patricia Thornley, director of Aston University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI), who said:

“I am delighted that this centre for doctoral training has been funded. The climate emergency is so stark that we can no longer rely on demand reduction and renewables to meet our decarbonisation targets.

“If we are to have GHG removal options ready in time to be usefully deployed, we need to start now to expand our knowledge and explore the reality of how these can be deployed. This partnership of four leading UK universities with key industrial and policy partners will significantly augment the UK’s ability to deliver on its climate ambitions.”

“We are absolutely delighted to be working with our partners to deliver this unique and exciting programme to train the technology leaders of the future. Our students will deliver research outcomes that are urgently needed and only made possible by combining the expertise and resources of all the centre’s academic and industry partners.”

Science and technology secretary, Michelle Donelan, said:

“As innovators across the world break new ground faster than ever, it is vital that government, business and academia invests in ambitious UK talent, giving them the tools to pioneer new discoveries that benefit all our lives while creating new jobs and growing the economy.

“By targeting critical technologies including artificial intelligence and future telecoms, we are supporting world class universities across the UK to build the skills base we need to unleash the potential of future tech and maintain our country’s reputation as a hub of cutting-edge research and development.”

Centres for doctoral training have a significant reputation in training future UK academics, industrialists and innovators who have gone on to develop some of the latest technologies across the clean energy and wider sectors.

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