Swansea collaborates to shine BEACON on Welsh scientific excellence
Swansea University scientists are working with the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University together with collaborators at Bangor University on a Welsh Assembly Government funded initiative which aims to pioneer a technique known as bio-refining, using plant material or 'bio-mass' to dramatically reduce the world's dependence on oil.
The £20 million BEACON initiative backed with £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund was announced in February.
The world consumes 30 billion barrels of oil each year and can sustain two billion people without oil; some five billion less than today's population. With the prediction that the human population will rise by approximately three billion by 2050, there is concern that there will not be enough resource for use in basic products such as food and fuel.
Swansea's BEACON lead, Professor Steve Kelly, Professor of Microbial Genetics and Molecular Biology, from Swansea's University's College of Medicine said: "The Institute of Life Science at Swansea University has an international reputation in microbial and molecular technologies using yeast, other fungi and bacteria.
"BEACON will build on the collaboration with Aberystwyth and Bangor in producing bioethanol from grass towards other end-products of fermentations. The use of grass makes this a reliably sustainable method, and the end-products could include second generation fuels beyond those such as petrol and diesel, currently being used.
BEACON uses a bio-refining process which aims to replace some of the industrial chemicals currently produced from oil with similar molecules from plants. The £20million in funding will allow the BEACON initiative to move to large scale production and allow the development of Centres of Excellence across Wales to respond to this major global challenge.
Swansea's co-lead for BEACON, Dr Diane Kelly, Reader in Microbial Genetics and Molecular Biology said: "In addition products produced by the biorefining process using microbes for health and pharmaceutical purposes will also be the focus of Swansea's role in BEACON. This will exploit the natural ability of microbes to produce enzymes and products identified as important for therapies.
BEACON will work with companies in Wales and abroad to convert biomass relevant to Welsh agriculture and Aberystwyth University plant breeding skills into a wide range of products including pharmaceuticals, chemicals, fuels, cosmetics and textiles.
A recent study led by the Chemistry Innovation Knowledge Transfer Network reports that Wales has access to feedstock suitable for biorefining without disruption of land use patterns, as well as a strong science and technology base. The report concludes that by developing these strengths, Wales could achieve a leading position in the use of renewable bio-based materials, an activity that "would contribute considerably to building a low-carbon economy in Wales as well as reversing the decline in rural communities and diversifying their commercial opportunities".
A key to success in building Wales' world-leadership in biorefining capacity is the development of overseas collaborators and technical 'intelligence', to complement and accelerate the BEACON initiative.
The US consumes 40% of the world's oil resource and US researchers are keen to explore alternatives to the resource. BEACON will build on and extend contacts made with a number of leading R&D centres in the US who are conducting similar activities to those planned through BEACON. The aim is to create a strong network between Welsh scientists and leading US and other international bioenergy and bioproduct experts.
It is also expected that international institutions will provide co-sponsorship and support for their scientists to visit BEACON partners.
Professor Ian Cluckie, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science and Engineering at Swansea University, said: "Looking ahead, the question of how we sustain an ever-increasing population is vital.
"The BEACON programme will develop the technology to make products traditionally made from oil, one of our most vital commodities, to safeguard the prosperity of future generations and, of course, our environment with a Welsh perspective."
"The possibility of a truly 'green' economy can only be made a reality through our combined efforts and BEACON, using the collaborative expertise of Welsh researchers at Swansea, Aberystwyth and Bangor universities, is a commendable example of this.
"I am delighted that the BEACON programme aspires to put Wales on the map as a Bio-refining Centre of Excellence and particularly proud of Swansea's involvement in this important initiative."
For further information:
This news item has been generated by Mari Hooson, Swansea University Public Relations Office, Tel: 01792 513455 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Fluorescent