NUI Galway Awarded €2 Million for Bio-fuel Research

Monday, 8 January 2007

08 January 2007: NUI Galway has been awarded over €2 million for bio-fuel research under a seven year programme from the prestigious Charles Parsons Research Funding Awards scheme, announced by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Noel Dempsey, T.D.. This injection of funding will enable the University to put highly skilled fourth level graduates to work at addressing some of the most pressing energy issues facing Ireland today.

Following the award, the Microbial Bioenergy Group at the NUI Galway's Environmental Change Institute will recruit twenty new researchers at postgraduate and postdoctoral level. The team will aim to produce improved bio-fuels from organic wastes such as domestic sewage. It will also research highly novel microbial and bio-fuel cells, which produce electricity through the action of naturally occurring bacteria. These new technologies have the potential to accomplish both large-scale wastewater treatment and electricity generation, with sanitation and energy benefits for both developed and developing countries.

The Microbial Bioenergy research group is jointly led by Dr. Vincent O'Flaherty and Dr. Dónal Leech, from the Departments of Microbiology and Chemistry, respectively.

The project coordinator, Dr. O'Flaherty said, "The Charles Parsons Award will help NUI Galway to develop and deploy new energy technologies which are essential to deliver security of supply, sustainability and competitiveness to Ireland. There is a particular and urgent need for research into producing viable alternative energy sources to tackle Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels".

The Charles Parsons Research Funding Awards scheme was named after Irishman Charles Parsons (1854-1931) who, in 1884, invented the steam turbine, which made affordable electricity readily available for the first time. The competition was open to institutes and groups from all thirty-two counties and applicants were evaluated by an international panel of experts, as part of the highly competitive process in which only seven awards were made nationally to cutting-edge research groups.

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Notes to editors:

About Microbial Fuel Cells Microbial fuel cells (MFC) produce electricity through the action of naturally occurring bacteria that drive power production by breaking down organic substrates in, for example, wastewater and then transporting electrons from their cell surface to the anode, the negative electrode of a fuel cell. The electrons flow from the anode through a wire to a cathode, the positive electrode of a fuel cell, where they generate electrical potential and combine with oxygen to form water. An added benefit of the approach is that as the bacteria generate electricity, pollutants are also removed, cleaning the wastewater. The power outputs reported thus far from MFC are usually small, but this is expected to change in the coming years as research continues. In addition, MFCs can be used to produce hydrogen directly from organic wastes for use as an alternative vehicle fuel. The project team leader, Dr. Vincent O'Flaherty, noted that "there is real potential for MFCs to accomplish both wastewater treatment and electricity generation at large-scale in the future, with sanitation and energy benefits for both developed and developing countries".

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