The role of different fuels in a carbon-neutral future

The European Conference on Fuel and Energy Research and Its Applications took place on 6-8 September in Nottingham, UK. The conference, organised by the Fuel and Research Energy Forum, brought together academic researchers and participants from industry.

The global energy scene is changing fast, and many countries are pledging to reach carbon-neutrality by 2050. This emphasis was reflected in the wide range of topics covered, including energy and fuels from biomass, waste, coal,  as well as industrial processes, relevant policies and how they can help to achieve ambitious climate and environmental goals. With about 90 international papers presented in two parallel sessions, it was hard to decide which talk to attend. Still, as the presentations were recorded, participants did not miss out on topics of interest.

Many excellent papers were presented on biofuels, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), ammonia, hydrogen, and techno-economic analysis, emission controls, and conversion of coal plants to waste and biomass and many more.

Brian Ricketts, EURACOAL, Belgium, presented a useful overview of the global energy scene and then discussed recent developments in EU policy related to coal and the outcomes of the CoalTech2051 project, to which our Centre was a major contributor. The project resulted in the drafting of recommendations for research priorities in the EU to 2050. These included supporting coal regions in transition; improving the health and safety of workers and whole communities in the post-mining regions; minimising coal’s environmental impact; and improving the sustainability of the coal phase-out in the EU.

Other great overviews were delivered by Professor Jenny Jones, University of Leeds, who talked about the technical challenges of expanding the fuel inventory in large scale biomass combustion, and by Professor Mohammed Pourkashanian, University of Sheffield. Prof Pourkashanian presented on  “Research challenges for zero carbon and sustainable fuels: prospects and the pathway forward for the clean energy of the future”.

Other presentations that captured my attention were from RJM International.  For example, Stephen Caesar, covered the development and application of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) optimisation of tangentially-fired boilers for ultra-low NOx performance using separated under-fired air. Initial assessment of the technology has been carried out in a UK coal-fired station where NOx emissions below 250 mg/m3 were achieved using only primary measures such as low NOx burners, overfire and underfired separated air. I noted that the solution has a huge potential to help the Indian power sector to lower NOx emissions. This is because the system is designed for tangentially-fired boilers, which are common in India. It also provides a relatively cheap solution and will not be affected by the high ash content of Indian coal. So I’m looking forward to hearing the results from the full-scale applications of the system.

It was also great to see friends who graduated with me from the University of Nottingham and are now involved in full-scale projects having a real impact. For example, my fellow graduate, Philip Jenkinson, from SIMEC Atlantis Energy, UK, discussed the opportunities and risks associated with coal plant conversion to biomass and waste – a clear trend in the UK and other European countries. While talking about the conversion of coal to biomass and energy from waste, I want to also mention a presentation by Colin Bateman from Integrated Global Services (IGS) Europe s.r.o., who talked about solutions to prevent corrosion and erosion in waste to energy and biomass boilers. IGS solutions have been successfully applied worldwide to 2,500 boilers and continue to evolve as the use of different biomass and waste increases.

With so many great presentations, it is impossible to cover them all, but I hope I have given a flavour of the event and how it reflected the changing energy mix in Europe and globally and how academia and industry can work together to ensure a carbon-neutral future.