Energy Generation:

Anaerobic digestion

  • Improved reactor design and operation for the anaerobic digestion of biowastes

    Design and development of water desalination plants for rural communities, driven by a hybrid solar-biogas energy system

    Supervisor: Supervisors: Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, Dr Kevin Hughes and Dr Davide Poggio

    Freshwater supplies are becoming increasingly stressed as demand increases. Desalination technologies are able to produce drinking water from abundant resources such as seawater. Solar energy has been used extensively in water desalination applications, but a backup source is needed to ensure continued operation of the system during periods of low radiation. This project will investigate the integration of solar energy and biogas to provide heat and electricity to a community-scale desalination system. Several options for thermal and electrical integration exist, which will need to be analysed through a modelling approach and constrained by the socio-economic characteristics of the targeted communities. Polygeneration design methods, control optimisation and thermoeconomic evaluation may be used during the project. The research will benefit from one of our current academic international collaborations where a desalination pilot plant is in the process of being built.

  • Improved reactor design and operation for the anaerobic digestion of biowastes

    Sustainable rural electrification in the developing world using microgrid integration of biogas and other renewable energy sources

    Supervisor: Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, Dr George Konstantopoulos, Dr Christopher Jones, Dr Mark Walker, Professor Shibani Chaudhury,

    Recent studies estimate that close to two-thirds of the world’s population live in rural areas and around 1.3 Billion people, mainly living in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, have little or no access to electricity.

    As an alternative to conventional large-scale electricity grid infrastructure is the use of off-grid integrated renewable energy systems (IRES) coupled with community scale microgrids, which can offer low-carbon electricity supply using locally available renewable resources.

    Biogas, produced though anaerobic digestion from local biomass resources which are abundant across much of the global south, can play a role in electrification whilst delivering additional benefits such as improved indoor air quality, public health and sanitation, reduced gender inequality and promotion of sustainable agriculture.

    This PhD project will investigate the design, operation, implementation and long-term community acceptance of rural electrification systems using biogas and other renewable technologies and will involve both modelling and field-based investigation.

    The project will involve an interdisciplinary approach and would seek to understand the interrelated criteria for successful IRES based energy projects. For example: (1) appropriateness of technology and optimised system scaling, (2) quantification of the electrical demand and its links to current and future behaviours, (3) understating criteria for community uptake and long-term acceptance of the technology and, (4) the provision of a dependable electrical supply by robust control of the microgrid and component energy systems.


    • Investigation and assessment of renewable resource availability in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in areas where biogas based rural electrification projects could be feasible.
    • Development of electricity demand prediction tools based on community type, economic activity, population and wealth, including how demand changes over time e.g. based on changing attitudes or increased economic activity.
    • Optimisation of microgrid operation, component scaling and reduction in energy storage, using modelling tools, based on a variety of resource availability and electrical demand scenarios.
    • Design of advanced hierarchical control strategies for high quality electricity distribution across a variety of timescales.
    • Investigation of the key factors that promote acceptance or rejection of electrification in non-electrified communities
    • Through the existing international collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Visva Bharati in India, the work will benefit from access to a rural electrification site that is currently powering 45 households across two Indian villages. The student will be expected to travel to India in order to perform technical and social field studies on both this system as well as other non-electrified villages nearby.

    Funding notes

    This four-year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of £2,627 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year.  Students will receive an annual stipend of £17,336.

  • Improved reactor design and operation for the anaerobic digestion of biowastes

    AD for off-grid rural electrification

    Supervisor: Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, Professor Lin Ma, Professor Derek Ingham and Dr Mark Walker

    AD has a huge potential to supply the energy needs of small communities across the world where grid connections are not available or unreliable, with a potential to increase quality of life and boost local economies. AD can be used alone or integrated with other small scale renewables to create a system that provides renewable and sustainable power at lower cost and reduced carbon intensity compared with grid electricity. This project will investigate the design and operation of such a system using process modelling in order to assess alternative configurations, operational strategies and scaling. The work will benefit from our existing academic links in rural India and will build on the recent BioCPV project which resulted in the installation of a 10 kW PV/AD energy system in a rural village, the data from which will be used for model validation.

    For further information please contact Professor Derek B Ingham on

  • Improved reactor design and operation for the anaerobic digestion of biowastes

    AD design and operating strategies for energy demand matching

    Supervisor: Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, Professor Lin Ma, Professor Derek Ingham and Dr Mark Walker


    The electricity grids of the future will require flexible generation technologies in order to balance the high penetration of intermittent renewables. Industrial scale AD plants are operated under steady-state conditions and therefore can be considered ‘base load’ generation, but this project will assess the ability of AD plants to operate in an energy demand matching regime at a number of timescales and using a variety of operational and process integration strategies. Integrated process models will be developed building on our current work into AD modelling, drawing on the breadth of expertise in process modelling and optimisation within Energy 2050. Validation of the resulting models, process configurations and control strategies will be performed using our state of the art AD experimental facilities.


  • Improved reactor design and operation for the anaerobic digestion of biowastes

    Advanced process modelling of AD

    Supervisor: Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, Dr Mark Walker, Professor Derek Ingham and Professor Lin Ma

    The AD group in is currently working at the state of the art in terms of the biochemical and physiochemical modelling of AD. The aim of this project would be to enhance this further by drawing upon other modelling expertise specifically in computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Such a combined approach can give greater insight into the process and allow design and process optimisation. This project will focus on a variety of strategies and design interventions that can increase the robustness of the AD process and will use a combination of modelling and experimental work to investigate and optimise these.