Partners in Renewable Energy Research Key Component For Green Future

Brunei Darussalam's dependency on its oil and gas industry further encourages researchers in Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) to seek ways to utilise renewable energy. The country's abundance of natural gas means that hydrogen is a plentiful and viable fuel to make use of Combined Heat Power (CHP).

Over the years, student researchers and staff at UBD have looked into turning biomass into fuel. One such research involved the pyrolysis of Acacia, a fast-growing invasive plant which is a good source of high quality lignocellulosic biomass, to produce liquid bio-oil, solid bio-char and syngas. Biofuel is synthesised from renewable resources and this includes plant biomass, vegetable oil or treated municipal and industrial waste. It can be in liquid, gaseous or solid form, and is considered as renewable fuel as it does not contribute any extra quantities of carbon dioxide to the environment, compared to fossil fuel. Since carbon dioxide is known to contribute to global warming, biofuel does not have any negative impact on the environment and is considered as "green fuel".

These studies are also in line with one of the strategies to achieve the nation's GDP target of 63 percent contribution from the non oil and gas sector, namely the innovation, technology and creative industries. An integrated gasification plant gasifies biofuel in a two-step process where both electricity and heat will be produced in an environmentally friendly way. As the produced heat will be used for water purification, this is a novel technique to produce both electricity and drinking water.

Solid Oxide fuel cells fall under UBD's Energy and Materials research theme which also includes low wind speed turbines, solar cells and energy-efficient smart homes. The Faculty of Integrated Technologies (FIT) currently has six PhD students working on solid oxide fuel cells and biomass gasification. Improving on these two technologies can then lead the way to higher levels of efficiency while reducing harmful emissions as opposed to using fossil fuels and coal.

However in order to do that, different components such as a fuel cell's anode, cathode and electrolyte need to be produced in a way that the best possible efficiency can be delivered at the lowest possible cost. This has to also take into consideration maintenance and replacement. A fuel cell's durability will determine how long it can last and its materials can degrade over time and may even break. Present collaborations in this area of research include the Centre of Advanced Materials, School of Chemistry, University of St Andrews, UK; Department of Environmental Inorganic Chemistry, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden; Department of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials Engineering, Sejong University, Korea; Department of Applied Materials Science and Engineering, Hanbat National University, Korea; Tongji University, China; and Center for Nanomaterials for renewable Energy, Xi'an Jiaotong University, China. Student researchers from UBD have been offered fellowships in these international partner universities, conducting shared research and publishing their findings in highly acclaimed journals.

Dr Abul Kalam Azad from FIT pointed out the importance of these ties with UBD as collaborative research saves time and allows the students exposure to a wider range of equipment and experts. UBD's Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with partner universities often include the sharing of technology and publications, along with the exchange of students and research staff. These are some of the factors that helped to raise UBD's status to a High Research Intensive university by the QS World Ranking.

Currently, international companies seeking the knowledge on how to improve the efficiency of fuel cells are looking into collaborating with UBD. In time, the dream of energy efficient homes may become as real as the electric cars that were merely images of fantasy but are on the roads now.

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