The National Academy of Sciences and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently awarded Toufiq Reza and researchers from three Bangladeshi universities a three-year international grant to research sustainable energy in Bangladesh.
The international grant worth $174,000 will allow Reza and researchers from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Bangladesh Agriculture University, and Dhaka University to examine the use of biogenic residue in Bangladesh to create clean energy, such as hydrogen production.
Bangladesh, as one of the fastest-growing countries in South Asia, is projected to see an increase in energy demand. However, the country's 180 million people's fossil fuel reserves have already been exhausted, reports Space Coast Daily.
However, there may be a silver lining to energy consumption: a byproduct known as biogenic waste, which is an organic material that degrades over time and pollutes the atmosphere.
The team is looking into how biogenic waste can be converted into energy that can then be distributed cheaply across the country through low-risk, modular hydrogen generation systems.
The project presents a novel method for producing renewable hydrogen on a modular scale using biogenic residues.
Current operations and maintenance problems, as well as waste management shortcomings of ongoing biogas projects in the country, can be resolved by anaerobic co-digestion, biogas washing, and management of digestate, which is the material left after anaerobic digestion of a biodegradable feedstock.
Toufiq Reza is an assistant professor of the Chemical Engineering Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering and Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology.
"I was raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. We were accustomed to scheduling blackouts every day due to the lack of electricity generation compared to the electricity demand," Reza said.
"With the natural gas deleting out gradually and not much land to dedicate for energy production, I was concerned about the future of the energy sector in Bangladesh. By knowing that more people mean more waste, I was always keen to find a way to convert waste to energy."
The concept would use anaerobic digestion of the biogenic residues to produce biogas, which would then be cleaned and further upgraded with a low-cost catalyst. Catalytic upgrading of biogas to hydrogen would be performed in a reactor, which has a greater ability to convert biogas into hydrogen-rich syngas, thus allowing for a more cost-efficient energy source that has a lower negative impact on the environment.
Experimental activities will be carried out at the universities in Bangladesh, and Reza will share his findings on digestate conversion to high-value carbon materials from a different National Science Foundation-funded project the team has secured.
The team has also facilitated the formation of an advisory panel that will provide an interactive platform for researchers and industry representatives to collaborate.
Life-cycle assessment and techno-economic analysis will provide policy-level recommendations to help provide a smooth transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources.
In the meantime, the research project will also aid in developing the required workforce for realization of the concept, through improved curricula at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, multidisciplinary research activities, and exchange of information among participating institutions.
The grant is part of USAID's January announcement of more than $5.8 million to fund partnerships in scientific cooperation on research projects to discover, test and scale breakthrough solutions for critical challenges in international development.
The agency selected 26 research projects for awards through the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research, a collaboration with the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
For Reza, helping Bangladesh with future energy demands is an exciting and personal opportunity.
"This USAID project is a very timely project, as it allows me to utilize my knowledge to resolve the waste-to-energy challenge of Bangladesh," he said.
"This project also allows me to collaborate with academia, industries, regulatory agencies, and governmental sectors of Bangladesh. It would be amazing and satisfying to see that our technology has been adopted and used in Bangladesh. I could then truly believe that I have finally given something back to my country."