Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering


The project will focus on utilising invasive aquatic macrophytes such as water hyacinth in combination with nutrient rich waste and immobilised microbial systems to maximise the production of biogas whilst generating clean water and recovering nutrients in low income communities, by developing innovative biotechnology solutions that promote resource efficiency and long-term sustainable services. The project will provide practical solutions for processing water hyacinth with other wastes (e.g. faecal matter, food waste) in novel bioreactors. These ought to be capable of producing affordable clean energy (as per the UN's Sustainable Development Goal # 7- a.k.a. SDG 7) with improved biogas yields and quality, and be suitable for use in cooking, refrigeration and power generation. The proposed processes of biogas production will be designed to be scaled appropriately to either urban areas (cities) and to smaller communities such as villages and schools (SDG 11). In addition, the integrated approaches will allow the potential for the recovery of valuable nutrients from the macrophyte feedstock for growing food and for the production of clean water. The integrated approaches will result in reduced emissions and health impacts associated with combustion of wood (SDG 3) and support more sustainable use of biomass resources (SDG 13). The use of aquatic macrophytes as an alternative biomass resource for energy generation can mitigate the over-reliance on firewood for cooking, thus promoting a more sustainable use of biomass resources (SDG 12). It also provides a solution to the growing problem in many African and Asian regions associated with invasive macrophytes resulting from eutrophication and pollution associated with poor sanitation and regulation of industry (SDG 6, 9 and 13). BEFWAM will support knowledge transfer from high- and mid-income countries (UK and India) to low-income countries in Africa (Uganda) and the delivery of training and supporting partnerships between stakeholders and local business.This will be effected through the application of the innovative technologies developed within the project while all stages of development are to be informed by the analysis of the social implications of energy production from macrophytes and waste. Special emphasis of the social analysis will be devoted to the gender-poverty nexus.

Technical Summary

The project will focus on using invasive aquatic macrophytes (water hyacinth) and nutrient rich waste ( manure, faecal sludge) in combination with immobilised microbial systems to facilitate the production of biogas, clean water and recovery of nutrients in developing countries. The project is structured into 5 technical work Packages (WPs) (i) Anaerobic conversion of invasive macrophytes; (ii) Routes to enhance methane yields and biogas quality; (iii) Development of immobilized bioreactors systems; (iv) Integrated approaches using invasive aquatic macrophytes; (v) Environmental and social considerations. The project will develop low cost pre-treatment (e.g. hydrolysis) and optimise biochemical processes (e.g. using immobilised culture) to maximise methane yields; organic matter removal from the liquid fraction; nutrient recovery via adsorption on solid bio-derived media (e.g. biochar); and develop simple biogas upgrading systems for CO2 removal and reuse (e.g. algal uptake, biomethanation via hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis). The innovation will be transferred from lab to pilot scale by engaging with technology providers and operators of biogas test facilities in India and Africa and by developing cyclic processes for extraction of energy and nutrients from selected feedstocks, capable of operating on a small scale and at relatively low cost. One of the key aims of the project is promoting capacity building and facilitating knowledge transfer, transforming laboratory scale innovation into full scale application providing direct benefits to local communities. The inclusion of academic expertise in biotechnology & social sciences with technology providers ensures the project will be transformative. Social analysis of the implications of energy production with an emphasis on the gender-poverty nexus will be considered, to ensure that project implementation will have positive and equitable benefits for poverty alleviation and social inclusion.

Planned Impact

In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 625 million people have no access to modern energy services. Most African countries are net energy importers and fossil-fuel-fired plants account for 81% of total electricity generation. There is a huge gap between energy supply and demand in Africa and other developing countries that successive efforts have failed to bridge; therefore, the supply of clean affordable and reliable forms of energy is a key priority (supporting SDG goal 7).
Many communities are still suffering from poverty, malnutrition, poor agricultural activities, and poor sanitation affecting quality of life. Their socio-economic wellbeing is directly or indirectly related to energy consumption. Cooking in Africa and Asia is generally fuelled by burning wood or charcoal and often based on the three stone fire design which is extremely hazardous to health and damaging to the environment. The supply of biomass fuel is not being adequately managed and is rapidly becoming unsustainable. The ability to replace the use of woody biomass for cooking with biogas would create a seismic shift in both energy supply and health (supporting the SDG 3, 7, 11, 12 and 13) while offering advantages over other types of fuel. These include safer handling than flammable liquid fuels due to quick dissipation in case of accidental leakage, hard to steal and impossible to use as intoxicant. Water reserves are also poorly managed and sanitation is a huge problem. The discharge of untreated sewage pollutes rivers and water sources resulting in a critical environmental and health hazard. In Uganda for instance, waste water is only treated in urban cities and rural areas lack basic sanitation. The treatment of waste water and conservation of water is therefore a priority (supporting SDG 6).

The development of new pathways for the production of clean and affordable energy from water hyacinth not only solve a major environmental problem but represents an alternative supply chain to replace unsustainable use of firewood for cooking. This is particularly a problem in Sub Sarahan Africa where in Uganda for instance 80% of cooking is done using either firewood or charcoal on simple poorly designed stoves. Water Hyacinth grows in lakes, rivers and stagnant water, it is normally associated with poor sanitation and discharge of sewage into the water body. Water hyacinth is a global problem which is causing considerable pressures on infrastructure, local economies and health. It is a major issue in India and Africa resulting in large amounts of biomass covering rivers and lakes, particularly in summer. Water hyacinth can reduce biodiversity, block waterways, rivers, irrigation canals and lakes. Fishing and transportation can be severely influenced by hyacinth mats, restricting the movement of fish and the movement of fishing boats which affects the local economy. It can also block irrigation canals effecting agriculture leading to poor crop growth and localised flooding. It also acts as a perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos and other vectors of diseases such as malaria, bilharzia, dengue and river blindness. The benefits of utilisation are clear with the development of viable conversion routes promoting jobs in harvesting and collection, improvements in infrastructure and fishing, the cleaning of water and reducing of disease. Added benefits may result from use of nutrients from digestate, potential use of water hyacinth as an animal feed and the future development of biorefinery approaches for processing of water hycynth into chemicals and bioproducts. Ultimately, the reduction of fuelwood use will have major benefits to health by using clean burning biogas stoves. The development of new supply chains will generate new revenue streams and provide economic incentive. This in turn will result in a cleaner environment, improved health, employment opportunities and development of new sustainable routes for the production of bioenergy and biomaterials.
Title Mini-documentary: Using water hyacinth to improve the performance of biogas digestors 
Description Mini-documentary produced by one of our partner organisations, CREEC. They explore the negative impacts of Water Hyacinth in Africa and how BEFWAM is investigating it's utilisation to improve the performance of biogas digesters. It featured members of CREEC as well as Vianney Tumwesige from Green Heat, one of our industrial partners. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact Raising awareness of the problems, and equally the potential of Water Hyacinth. The video has been viewed over 400 times. 
Description The project has been running for 2 years and until COVID hit, was progressing well. Its aim is to develop approaches for the utilisation of invasive aquatic plants as an alternative biomass supply chain, producing clean-burning cooking fuel via anaerobic digestion (AD).

Methods developed for biomass sampling and analysis have been combined with modelling and biomass resource assessment to produce a preliminary data set on the composition and distribution of water hyacinth in India and Uganda.

Initial anaerobic digestion tests indicate that digestion of water hyacinth can be problematic without prior pre-treatment and that biomass composition varies considerably between sampling sites.

Pre-treatment has been shown to increase biogas potential and the upgrading strategies proposed have been shown to be viable. A number of pre-treatment options have been demonstrated such as thermal, chemical and enzymic pre-treatment. A journal paper has been published on the thermal pre-treatment of water hyacinth

Initial tests have shown that the composition of biomass affects its biogas potential, and samples from different sites have shown a large variation in biogas production.
Water hyacinth has a large potential to remove pollutants and nutrients from water bodies and this is being investigated using artificial cultivation trials.

Methods have been developed for artificial cultivation of water hyacinth by our industrial collaborator. Growth rates and composition of biomass are dependent upon the Nitrogen content in the waterbody.

A data set is being developed on the levels of pollutants in aquatic biomass collected at the different sites to understand and model the potential for phytoremediation of contaminated water.

The addition of biochar to growth chambers during artificial cultivation of water hyacinth has been found to have significant benefits.
Google Erath Engine methods are being developed to assess the resource assessment of biomass and its seasonal variation.

The addition of biochar to anaerobic digestion has been shown to influence the yields of biogas although the exact mechanisms are still unclear. A journal paper has been published on the effect of biochar on digestion of model substrates and a detailed study has been performed on the effect of biochar addition to anaerobic digestion of water hyacinth.

Links have been developed with a number of village communities (in India and Uganda); initial surveys have been undertaken, raising awareness of AD as a method for producing clean-burning cooking fuel.

A series of demonstration units are being constructed in Uganda and India. Demonstration activities will allow villages to engage with the technology and receive training in the management of small digesters. The project is working closely with our industrial partners to develop these demonstrators. Work has started on the commissioning of facilities at two sites in India and one site in Uganda with each site demonstrating a different integration strategies.

The first site operated in Sehalai, is situated in Bolpur Sriniketan in West Bengal, India. This site operates a fixed dome digester operating on cow dung and water hyacinth, three digesters have been renovated and a third reactor built from new. These units have been co-funded by BEFWAM in collaboration with the village funds. This site will operate with and without the addition of biochar and one digester will allow different upgrading strategies to be assessed and monitored.

The second site, also in India is currently being developed by Defiant renewables and is a floating dome digester operating on cow dung and water hyacinth (WH) for use at a girls' hostel in the tribal area of Bhima Shankar, Pune. This site is supported by an NGO (Shashvat) which works in the Pune district of Maharashtra on various social projects. This is a n integrated cultivation and digestion system and is designed to replace the use of LPG for cooking at the hostel. The digestate is being used as a fertiliser to grow vegetables in a vertical garden. The demonstrator will be used as a training facility for local community leaders

A test facility developed at Defiant renewables, Pune also includes cultivation facilities for water hyacinth, a 1m3 digester for testing co-digestion of water hyacinth and cow manure, a series of smaller 200L digesters for testing different interventions such as use of biochar. A leachate reactor has been developed at Defiant Renewables which allows water hyacinth to be pre-treated before injection into the main reactor.

In Uganda, two demonstration units are currently under construction, the first uses water hyacinth as an alternative feedstock for biogas digesters currently installed in three schools in Kampala. The first is a biodigester at St Theresa's Primary School in Kisubi, is being installed by our industrial partner in Uganda, Green Heat, and supplies the school with biogas for cooking,

The second demonstration unit in Uganda will be located in Ntoroko district near Lake Albert and will co-digest water hyacinth with cow dung to demonstrate biogas as an alternative source of fuel for cooking and refrigeration.

The socioeconomic and environmental impacts have also been assessed. Development of the environmental impact assessment, a policy document of biogas use in India and a desk based study understanding the environmental impact of augmenting biochar into small scale digestion has been undertaken. Combined with these activities, a number of community engagement workshops have introduced stakeholders to anaerobic digestion (AD) and to the use of WH as an alternative feedstock.

Three papers have been published, a policy brief for anaerobic digestion in India and a further 15 papers are in preparation associated with the project.

Filming has begun in Uganda for the documentary and a short film describing the project has been produced and uploaded onto YouTube.
Outreach activities have also been developed with Kew, Royal botanical Gardens, to disseminate the activities of the project directly to the public.

Significant progress modelling cultivation and digestion of aquatic biomass has been made. A case study has produced a system material balance for Sehalai village, West Bengal, India - population size 1,400. The model has predicted the area required to cultivate sufficient water hyacinth to supply the town's cooking requirements.

The development of a predictive model for the cultivation of water hyacinth has enabled the assessment of growth characteristics under varying nutrient loadings, solar irradiance and matt density which can predict water body requirements and water treatment capacity.

Capacity building within the project has included: development of experimental facilities across the project (particularly in Uganda), development of analytical facilities and provision of training programmes and knowledge transfer. The development and supply of BMP test facilities by our Indian industrial partner that don't require sophisticated equipment/analysis has been delivered.

The latter developments provide standardisation of methods and represents a step change in the facilities available in Uganda. Other successes include alignment of three Leeds PhD students with the project, the development of good working relationships between partners and identification and agreement of demonstration sites and timelines for implementation.
Exploitation Route The project is delivering demonstration units in rural areas of India which are being used by local communities for cooking gas, the research and development being performed using these facilities as part of the project and the training that is being provided will allow communities directly benefiting to improve the operation of these facilities.
The training provided will allow communities to utilise the water hyacinth locally available to provide energy and other bio-products (e.g fertiliser) improving crop growth and reducing fertiliser use. The use of these facilities will have a significant effect of the poorer communities for which the acquisition of LPG is a significant cost. The development of alternatives to using fire wood for cooking will reduce their reliance on burning wood for cooking. The innovations developed as part of the project will be used by the AD suppliers building AD units in the rural areas in both India and Uganda by working closely with AD suppliers.

Advanced facilities being funded by this project for the individual research institutes involved in the project, coupled with the expertise developed, will allow them to support research and development in this field, provide additional support to local communities benefiting from this research and develop new projects and collaborations.

The outcomes of this research will allow other stakeholders in different regions of India and Uganda (beyond the test sites) to develop similar schemes. Dissemination of the activities more widely will allow these developed systems to be rolled out in other DAC countries where water hyacinth is invasive.

The MOOC and short films being produced as part of this project will provide training and awareness of opportunities in other DAC countries may encourage NGO and policy makers in other regions to support similar projects.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Energy,Environment

Description The development of data sets on the composition of water hyacinth, potential for phytoremediation, and AD of invasive aquatic plants are allowing us to develop models for predicting and understanding the potential impact of water hyacinth under different conditions. The laboratory scale experiments are guiding best practice on how to utilise invasive aquatic plants and incorporate approaches for upgrading biogas in demonstrator units and how to cultivate, harvest and manage this resource. The socioeconomic studies have enabled us to identify benefits to the beneficiaries of the research for utilising aquatic plants and understanding their environmental and economic value. The data from the technical aspects are being incorporated into a number of scientific papers which are currently in preparation. The outcomes from the research are also being dissemination in conferences and national workshops and events. The potential economic advantages to local business and local communities from utilising new types of resources are also being evaluated. Finding have been used to design and build reactors and integrated systems for the utilisation of water hyacinth in the demonstrator units Findings have allowed us to model cultivation and conversion and estimate the scale of systems needed for both replacement of LPG for cooking and generation of electricity using anaerobic digestion Training and awareness of the use of aquatic biomass has allowed the communities we are working with the increase biogas yields in their local digesters. Utilisation of digestate as an organic fertiliser has been taken up by farmers in India and Uganda and is being trailed for use in growing onions in red soils and in vertical gardens for vegetables and herbs The project has developed new collaborative links with UK Universities (e.g. Aberystwyth University) and developed new links in India (IIT, Mumbai). This has led to funded proposals and joint publications The socio-economic studies have enabled us to identify benefits to the beneficiaries of the research for utilizing aquatic plants and understanding their environmental and economic value. The outcomes from the research are also being disseminated in conferences and national workshops and events. Some of our associated PGR have become employed in the project. Setting up pilot facilities has allowed training of researchers within the project by visiting the Industrial partners. The project is promoting new collaboration between our industrial partners and local government organizations - The project is helping to establish our industrial partners with new projects and funding proposals. Large scale testing of water hyacinth co-digestion is producing large amounts of digestate for utilisation as an organic fertiliser. Digestate obtained from the biogas digester is being tested grow rice and other crops. Fertiliser is also being supplied to new collaborators outside the project to test new opportunities. Pilots (most advanced of which are in India) - are allowing us to develop direct impact to the community and engage with local organisations, NGOs etc. Trials for growing vegetables have already begun at our industrial partner in India (Defiant renewables) and at a local nursery to determine the best vegetables and crops that can be grown on digestate. Industrial partner in India (Defiant renewables) has employed 2 new members of staff and have trained researchers from ICT and VBU on research methods. Findings are being utilized to assess the utilization of water hyacinth in other DAC countries (e.g. Tanzania) through Master projects. We have a number of projects underway looking at resource assessment in different regions The potential for utilization of water hyacinth and other aquatic biomass for use in small scale AD facilities linked to microgrids are being explored through collaboration with other GCRF projects (e.g. CRESUM HYRES)
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description Biogas Policies in Rural India; A clean energy approach to sustainable development
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Description The conversion of wet waste by hydrothermal carbonisation for the production of higher value products
Amount £128,000 (GBP)
Organisation UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 03/2021
Title Development of approaches for aquatic biomass resource assessment 
Description Developing code from reports in the literature, a method has been developed for assessing the levels of aquatic biomass available in water bodies using Google Earth Engine. This has allowed us to generate data for predicting the potential for water hyacinth as an energy source and its action to clean and transfer pollutants from water bodies. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The approach being developed will allow us to predict the seasonal and regional variation of water hyacinth and other aquatic biomass. This will allow us to predict the potential biomass resource availability, the levels of nutrient flows and the potential for cleaning water 
Title New BMP reactor methodology 
Description A new Biochemical methane potential (BMP) reactor system has been developed by our industrial partner (Defiant Renewables) and equipment has been sent to each partner. The equipment allow BMP experiments to be performed without the need for complicated analysis and is one of two methods developed so far in the project to allow BMP experiments to be performed in Uganda and India. The experiment allows different substrates to be tested for their ability to generate biogas under different conditions. The method is alowing us to standardise our methods for measuring biogas production from water hyacinth and other invasive biomass. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This reactor system will allow all partners to have a standardised method for performing BMP without the use of sofisticated analytical equipment. With access to sofisticated equipment however, it can also be used to provide extensive analysis of biomethanation. 
Title Protocols for sampling and Analysis of water hyacinth 
Description Sampling of water hyacinth from India and Uganda have been standardised to allow representative samples to be sampled for compositional analysis including genetic analysis. Samples are collected at specific points in the year and stored using standardised methods. Samples for genetic analysis are sampled separately. The plants are separated into different parts for compositional analysis. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Representative samples are now being collected from the India and Ugandan sample sites. The development of protocols will introduce rigour into sampling procedure needed to produce high quality publishable data. 
Title Anaerobic digestion model 
Description The BEFWAM project is generating large quantities of data on the biomethanation potential of water hyacinth and other aquatic macrophages as a function of inocula, inoculum to biomass ratios, pH etc. In order to make sense of this data, it is important to use it to train a suitable first principles mathematical model. Such a model is also invaluable for designing appropriate biodigestors. We have developed a mathematical framework by using which we have calibrated a model for pistia digestion using cow dung as the inoculum. As data comes it, this framework can be adapted for more or less sophisticated models depending on the quality and type of data. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The model will allow us to design new digestors and understand how currents AD reactor designs can operate more succesfully 
Description Collaboration with Kew, Royal Botanical Gardens (Olwen Grace) Member of external advisory board for BEFWAM project 
Organisation Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Funding for attending advisory board meetings
Collaborator Contribution Supply of biomass and member of advisory board.
Impact Contribution from Leeds to Kew annual review. Kew supplying biomass for PGR project. --- As part of Kew's reciprocal relationship with the project, two Kew members of staff, Dr Olwen Grace (who is also a member of the BEFWAM Advisory Board) and Dr Titziana Ullian are liaising with community leaders in Ntoroko in Uganda to offer advice and information on planting native species to combat deforestation, desertification and coastal erosion. --- Since its inception, BEFWAM has produced a significant amount of research, including digital media from India and Uganda; Kew has expressed interest in using this research material to promote the project via its online presence (website and social media).
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration with UNAK, Iceland 
Organisation University of Akureyri
Country Iceland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Funding has been requested to send researchers associated to the project to UNAK for training. budget was requested for UNAK investigator Dr Sean Scully to visit Leeds and attend advisory board meetings.
Collaborator Contribution UNAK are part of our industrial advisory board and are hosting PGR for training in IB.
Impact 1 research paper published and 2 additional papers in submission
Start Year 2019
Description Collaborative link with Dr Jessica Adams, IBERS, University of Aberystwyth 
Organisation Aberystwyth University
Department Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A joint publication has been published 2 x PGR placements from Leeds have worked at IBERS 2 x submitted funding proposals. Development of links to other Indian based projects analysis performed for Masters students at IBERS
Collaborator Contribution Access to steam explosion facility for pretreatment of water hyacinth Cultivation of water hyacinth from Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Hosted two PGR placements
Impact 1 published paper 2 submitted funding applications publications planned Further funding applications planned
Start Year 2019
Description Workshop on Plant power at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On Thursday 27th June, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in collaboration with the University of Leeds hosted an interdisciplinary workshop with presentations from energy projects in Uganda, Tanzania, Congo-Brazzaville, Indonesia and India. Key topics will include biogas from invasive water hyacinth and bioenergy in mini-grids. The workshop brings together international expertise to develop ideas and collaboration to a theme that is fundamental for sustainable development, poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation and mitigating climate change. Projects showcased include the BEFWAM project, CRESM Hyres, ACERA, Conversion of wet waste and a Newton Bbhaba project on MSW.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019