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.


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