About us

BEACON is led by Aberystwyth University in collaboration with partners at Bangor and Swansea Universities. We are backed with £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

BEACON will build on research already underway at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) to produce fuels from energy crops such as high-sugar grasses like rye.

Bangor University will build on work to develop new materials and chemicals from plants which can be used to develop innovative products.

BEACON will also enable Swansea University to focus on developing their expertise in using bacteria and fungi to digest, or ferment, plant matter within the biorefining process.

BEACON aims to contribute to developing renewable energy and assist in the transition to a low carbon economy with an overall objective of mitigating the impact of climate change.

BEACON is seeking to:

  • Establish links between the business community and academia within Wales.
  • Develop new products and processes that will support economic growth.
  • Create highly skilled jobs in the area of green biotechnology.
  • Support inward investment.
  • Promote science excellence from Wales.

Core Activities

BEACON has a number of core strategic research activities and these include initiatives focused on:

  • Understanding how to efficiently process wet biomass using mechanical and physico-chemical technologies
  • Conversion of lignocellulose biomass into biofuels
  • Conversion of wet biomass into platform chemicals and fine chemicals
  • Developing and enhancing enzymes and microbial systems for the production of products such as fine chemicals and transport fuels
  • Isolating commercially important molecules using membrane technologies and supercritical fluids
  • Production of bioplastics from biomass
  • Production of bio-based packaging from biomass
  • Developing ‘End of Life’ methodologies associated with pyrolysis and the production of biochar and bio-oil
  • Evaluation of processing routes from biomass to products and developing the associated economic modelling

Biomass

This is material derived from living organisms. In our case the main sources of biomass are from plants. Examples are perennial ryegrass, clover, miscanthus, oats, and Jerusalem artichoke. Plants convert sunlight into a variety of molecules such as cellulose, lignin and simple sugars. Our project aims to isolate these and convert them into higher value products.

Primary Processing

In many cases we cannot use the plants directly, so to improve our ability to access those key molecules and compounds, a number of processes must be used. The initial phase can use mechanical and physico-chemical approaches such as: chopping, hammering, pelleting, pyrolysis and steam explosion.

Secondary Processing

Once the initial processing has taken place we can use biological and chemical methods to convert the raw material into something with a higher value. In many cases enzymes and microorganisms will be used to help reduce complex molecules from the plants into simple building blocks such as sugars. These are then converted into e.g. chemicals using microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and fungi. Methods then need to be developed to isolate those molecules. This is where technologies such as supercritical fluid extraction, centrifugation and membrane systems are used to help purify the desired products.

Conversion to:

Bioethanol, Biobutanol, Plant Oils, Antioxidants, Sorbitol…..

Products:

Many products that we see around us can be made from compounds originating from plants e.g.

  • Biocomposites
  • Bio-oil
  • Charcoal, activated charcoal
  • Emulsifiers
  • Food additives
  • Nutraceuticals
  • Plastics
  • Proteins
  • Surfactants (detergents)
  • Transport fuels

Facilities

The BEACON capability at Swansea University is centred on the microbiology facilities in the Institute of Life Science (ILS), the research arm of the College of Medicine at Swansea University. Completed in 2007, with support from the Welsh Government and the European Union, the ILS laboratories house state of the art facilities and equipment.