Energy from Rice Straw

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Eng

Abstract

This project will take rice straw, which is currently a waste material creating environmental problems in intensive rice systems across South and South-East Asia, and demonstrate the feasibility of converting it to a useful energy resource. The research will focus on addressing the very challenging physical and chemical properties of rice straw as an energy feedstock in a way that yields direct benefits for local communities.

Barriers to be overcome include logistics, social integration, technological and economical challenges and institutional support. With such a multi-disciplinary suite of obstacles, a similarly multi-disciplinary team has been assembled to try to negotiate them. Wheat straw physiology and bioenergy technology experts from the SUPERGEN bioenergy hub have teamed up with rice straw experts, engineers, social scientists and extension staff from IRRI to form the core research team. This team will work together in partnership on 5 work packages that will effectively transfer knowledge between the partners to address the obstacles to sustainable development of energy from waste rice straw. These include:
1. Understanding the rice straw and the specific challenges (technical, economic and social) associated with using it for energy purposes
2a. Evaluating the technical and economic performance of different technology options for delivering energy from rice straw - carrying out conversion trials of rice straw in the Philippines using different conversion technologies (e.g. gasification, combustion and anaerobic digestion) to develop projections of how a whole system based on these different conversion options would perform at different scales across a range of technical and economic criteria e.g. capital cost installed, payback time, break even price of heat generated etc.
2b. Using stakeholder engagement to identify the technical and non-technical barriers associated with energy conversion of rice straw, including issues such as viable business models for project development
3. Quantifying the environmental impact of the most promising conversion options, including crucially the greenhouse gas benefits
4. Understanding the energy needs and technology preferences of local communities via focus group discussions, that involve not just farmers (with a feedstock focus) but also their households (as end users with cooking needs, electricity, food storage etc) to account for whole community concerns in a gender-sensitive way. Rice millers, village leaders and policy makers will also be involved in discussions to gain a wider range of perspectives that will inform the study.
5. Enabling development of the rice straw-energy technologies by engagement with a variety of local and international stakeholders and addressing the key issue of development risk by demonstrating technology viability at a facility to be built at IRRI's Experimental Station.

This represents a co-ordinated programme of activities focused on better understanding the particular issues associated with rice straw conversion and addressing these to show what works and what does not. This is a critical step in solving the major environmental and health issue of rice straw burning across Asia, whilst bringing energy access benefits for local communities. The UK partners gain from stretching their understanding of plant performance with an unusually challenging feedstock, which may also have implications for other feedstocks, and by deepening understanding of the socio-political context in developing countries. IRRI benefits from improved understanding of the scientific and engineering challenges posed by conversion of rice straw and how to overcome them. Local communities benefit from reduced environmental hazard and clean energy access. The wider global population benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions from rice production and energy use.

Planned Impact

The main impact anticipated is to alleviate a significant environmental problem and turn it into an asset that can help provide clean, cost-effective energy services for rural areas in South and South East Asia.

Small-scale rice farmers across S & SE Asia are the ultimate focus of the project, which will be guided by their needs and priorities. The aim of the research is to identify smallholder energy needs and the barriers they face in using rice straw to help meet those needs. Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) will be held in countries across S & SE Asia to bring stakeholders together and inform the research at key stages (inception; after desk study; and in final year) so that the work can be centred around their needs, including the practical, health and social needs of women and children in households as potential energy end users.

Work will involve technology and logistics refinement and business model development so that uncertainties can be reduced and viable solutions validated and "de-risked" by the project deliverables. This is a key market failure that the project would seek to address, by developing working solutions that are attractive to financiers as well as to farmers and their households. Often the lack of purchasing power and the small-scale nature of the technologies required make them less attractive commercial markets for the investment of R&D in technologies. Part of this project would involve setting up a demonstration at the Experimental Station to give proof of concept. Allied to that market failure is a need for different business models that aggregate farmers and technology production to achieve economies of scale, an innovative example of which is the rise of microfranchises in developing countries. Research in these areas will allow the most promising technologies and business models identified in the project to be scaled up to facilitate practical implementation among rice farmers, so that they can benefit directly. The cost to human health of burning rice straw in fields and GHG emissions from rice production and fossil fuel use are other market failures that this work would help overcome.

Lessons learned from this study will be broadcast using the many channels (see full proposal) that can be expected from bringing together two world-class research groups to address a problem. Having identified what works and what does not - not just technically but socially, economically and environmentally - along with the potential development benefits the solutions could bring to rural communities, this project will aim to broadcast that knowledge to accelerate take-up across Asia. A future project could facilitate that roll-out, working with pioneer farmers initially, arising from the FGDs used in this project. From those pioneer farmers further demonstrating what works in different local contexts, with institutional and policy support in place and commercial involvement (technology providers, financial institutions) the solutions could be scaled-up via early adopters to reach the masses. This project aims to be the first, vital step in that process.

Therefore, this research aims to positively impact rice farmers across the region, identifying and improving upon the most promising routes for transforming waste into a clean energy resource that can benefit them and their families.
 
Description Rice is the staple food of more than half of the world's population, and about 91% of it is grown and consumed in Asia. For every 4 tons of rice grain, 6 tons of straw are produced. In Asia, this amounts to about 550 million tons of straw and 110 million tons of husks each year. The husks are removed from the grains and can be used as fuel, while rice straw remains in the fields after harvest and is costly to gather up.
Traditional rice straw management practices are often hazardous to the ecosystem. Incorporating rice straw into the soil delays the land preparation for next cropping and causes methane emissions. Burning rice straw causes air pollution and health problems.
Nevertheless, rice straw can be sustainably removed from the field and used for bioenergy. The Rice Straw Energy project (2013-2016) was a collaboration between researchers in the U.K. 'SUPERGEN' Bioenergy Consortium and IRRI to understand the barriers that prevent this from happening and investigate the possible solutions.
Four key barriers to rice straw utilisation are: logistics, fuel properties, business challenges and policy drivers. The project collated new and existing data on fuel properties, making these publicly available in project reports and databases online. It examined logistical challenges in conjunction with experts in India and Vietnam and investigated how rice straw could feasibly be centrally collected for different rice production practices and scales via interviews, focus groups, workshops, meetings and conferences with rice industry stakeholders, agricultural extension workers, lenders etc.. It explored business models and adjacent sectors e.g. mushroom production and animal manure disposal and drew policy conclusions and recommendations that were communicated to local and global decision-makers.
The overall conclusion was that there is a viable opportunity which is currently being progressed by a follow-on Energy Catalyst project and further PhD study.
Exploitation Route Construction of a demonstration plant for AD of rice straw - being pursued with Innovate UK funding
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment

URL http://ricestraw.irri.org/resources-1
 
Description The project has now completed and has successfully met almost all of its committed outputs. The original proposal committed to delivering real environmental and socio-economic benefits by working with top scientists and experienced practitioners to devise practical solutions to rice straw burning. While we were unable to fully evaluate all the technologies we wished to and the work was only able to avail of lab tests this was supplemented by field data in Vietnam and external collaborations with other groups e.g. in India and Germany to nevertheless develop a viable, practical solution. The environmental sustainability of the proposed project has been evaluated and the practical implementation of this now being verified in the pilot plant. Significant insights were gained into socio-economic impacts, which are now informing PhD study, focused on network mapping. This seeks to establish key influences on farmer decision making in rural south east Asia and stands to deliver useful information and insights in the agricultural sector of low and middle income countries well beyond the original vision of the project.The thesis has been written and is being examind in Manchester in March 2019. Most significantly a pilot plant project is currently under construction (components have been shipped from the UK and are expected in the Philippines in the next few weeks). UK social science inputs is informing sustainable business models as the lead institute on this project continues to work with new and previous partners to establish and advise the most effective contracting and commercial arrangements to deliver against sustainable development goals in a local context. This is being reported upon via a separately funded Innovate UK project.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description International development - provision of inromation on bioenergy potential and impacts to DFID
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Energy catalyst award
Amount £1,200,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 102769 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2020
 
Title Composition of rice straw 
Description Freely available database that collates physical and chemical properties of different rice straws analyzed in the project and found in the literature 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Not yet known 
 
Description Imperial college studnet projects 
Organisation Imperial College London
Department Imperial College Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution 2 Imperial College students have undertaken masters projects related to hte project
Collaborator Contribution Partners met with students, provided information and collaborated on joint outputs
Impact 2 student theses Multi-disciplinary
Start Year 2015
 
Description Rice straw Vietnam 
Organisation Can Tho University
Country Viet Nam 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Can Tho Univeristy - we have liaised with the university with subsequent PhD student to progress work on sustainable rice straw management
Collaborator Contribution IRRI established the collaboration and have ran several workshops, seminars and visits to further develop business models on rice straw to energy and rice straw to mushroom composting that will improve sustainable rice straw management
Impact Better understanding of rice straw managemetn options and practical investigation of rice straw digestion with animal manure
Start Year 2014
 
Description Bioenergy: an engine for economic growth in the gloabl south - ? 
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 a significant meeting in London that brought together over 80 bioenergy and development scientists to exchange knowledge and work together towards sustainable bioenergy for development
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.supergen-bioenergy.net/events/past-events/bioenergy-an-engine-for-economic-growth-in-the-...
 
Description British Council workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact running a successful British Council workshop in South Africa, publication of a sub Saharan Africa and publishing a follow-up report with follow-up with DFID and the FCO, which has helped inform a current DFID call for bioenergy in sub Saharan Africa
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Engineering a better world 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Supporting young engineers as a mentor during this event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description International Clean Air Conference (July, Thornley, Manchester) 
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 • Keynote on biomass combustion emissions at International Clean Air Conference (July, Thornley, Manchester
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description International development workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Workshop on international devleopment and bioeneryg to transfer knowledge from resarchers to NGO's, chariteis, policy makers etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited presentation at Low Carbon Energy for Development network (Manchester, UCL) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited presentation at Low Carbon Energy for Development network (Manchester, UCL)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Manchester breakthrough web and social media campaign 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Online media campaign on impact of Manchester energy research focusing on this project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/beacons/breakthroughs/renewable-biomass/
 
Description Rice straw to energy workshop: world renewable eneryg congress 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Workshop at World Renewable Energy Congress with policy makers, industiralists and business people from across south east Asia to raise awareness of rice straw energy options.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016