Rice straw converted into bioenergy for Philippines' rural communities

Dr Mirjam Roeder who is based at the University's Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) is collaborating with the UK company Straw Innovations Ltd, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and Koolmill Systems Ltd to showcase their research.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that rice is the number one food crop globally and 91% of it is produced and consumed in Asia. As a crop it is responsible for 48% of global crop emissions and for every kilogram of rice, a kilo of straw is produced.

Across Asia 300 million tonnes of rice straw go up in smoke every year when burnt after harvest, releasing emissions and air pollutants that triple risks of increased respiratory diseases and accelerate climate change.

To raise awareness of sustainable uses for rice straw Dr Roeder has travelled to the sixth International Rice Congress in Manila, Philippines to explain the potential of the emerging technology.

Rice straw is an underdeveloped feedstock and can be collected and digested to produce biogas, unlocking sustainable straw management options and renewable energy for farmers using anaerobic digestion (AD) from rice straw.

Dr Roeder has been working with Straw Innovations on their UK Innovate project demonstration facility in the Philippines, the Rice Straw Biogas Hub, which is scaling up a complete harvesting system with straw removal, biogas-powered rice drying and storage, together with efficient milling.

Craig Jamieson, Straw Innovations said: "The International Rice Congress is only held every four years and is a key event for coordinating and tracking progress in rice research.

"Our partnership with Aston University and SEARCA adds independent, scientific rigour to the work we do and amplifies our message to government policy makers. We are grateful to Innovate UK for their ongoing support through the Energy Catalyst Programme, which is accelerating our development."

At the conference Dr Roeder has been explaining how independent environmental and social research can increase farmer incomes, equality of opportunity, food security and decarbonisation benefits.

She said: "Engaging with stakeholders and working in partnership across organisations is vital to the successful adoption of new technologies. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to host an event with our project partners at this prestigious conference, bringing the cutting-edge research of using rice straw for clean energy to the forefront of the rice research community and supporting the pathway to net zero."

Dr Glenn B Gregorio, Center Director of SEARCA, added: "We are gaining insights into the environmental impact of rice straw utilisation and implementing policies to unleash its potential to empower us to make informed decisions that are instrumental to climate change mitigation and decarbonisation,"

Professor Rex Demafelis, University of the Philippines, is also working with SEARCA and is leading the project on life cycle analyses and measurements of rice straw greenhouse gas emissions. He said: "Rice straw is a valuable resource, and we are grateful to be part of this team which seeks to harness its full potential and promote circularity, which would ultimately contribute to our goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions."

The Supergen Bioenergy Hub works with academia, industry, government and societal stakeholders to develop sustainable bioenergy systems that support the UK's transition to an affordable, resilient, low-carbon energy future.

The Hub is funded jointly by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is part of the wider Supergen Programme.