The EU has pumped almost €9 million into a pan-European research network that aims to change the way European’s fuel their vehicles.

BRISK (Biofuels Research Infrastructure for Sharing Knowledge) is a four-year programme that aims to give Europe a research edge in biorefining – the conversion of “biomass” like wood, energy crops and agricultural wastes into fuel.

According to BRISK, its main activity will be to fund researchers from any EU country to carry out research related to biofuels at one of the 26 partners’ facilities. The project is being co-ordinated by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and includes partners from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK.

The initiative favours thermal biomass conversion, when biomass is changed into liquids, gases and solids suitable for the production of electricity, heat and transport fuels. Although such processes already exist, BRISK says they must improve if Europe is going to meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050.

The plants and processes required to develop biorefining are expensive. Therefore by increasing access to them across Europe, BRISK says it will “increase the commercial maturity of the most promising value chains for biofuels”. This includes the optimisation of processes that produce advanced biofuels like syngas and biomethane.

Biofuels have many issues and have always had a bad press, at least in the UK. Consumers are naturally suspicious of changes to what they use as fuel, and a major problem is demonstrating that biofuels have positive effects. BRISK’s aim to speed up the development of advanced biofuels is great, but needs to be tempered with an approach that ensures sustainability and consumer buy-in.

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