First year PhD student, Jon Wagner discusses our recent conference attendance.
A few weeks ago, Chris, Lisa, Fraeya, Joe and I attended the International Bioenergy Conference in Manchester. Based on its description, the conference promised to be very relevant to each of our projects, covering amongst others Biomass feedstocks for renewable energy generation, Environmental, social and economic sustainability, Added value through alternative applications of biomass and Biochemical and thermochemical conversion technologies.
Equipped with posters on our PhD research we finally drove up to Manchester on the Monday night and after driving about ten times around the same block, we even managed to find the right car park! We stayed at a hotel only a few steps away from the Manchester Central Convention Complex, where the conference was held. The conference itself started on Tuesday morning and was a mixture of plenary and parallel sessions. Each parallel session was organized and chaired by an expert in the relevant area, which ensured that the talks were as relevant as possible to the session topic. The lack of a consistent format across the sessions made it however impossible to switch between sessions to attend the most relevant talks, and in many cases all questions were saved until the end of the session. Whilst in theory this should have allowed a good discussion among all the speakers, there was often insufficient time for questions as some speakers overran. Nevertheless, most of the presentations were very interesting, and I particularly enjoyed the sessions on pyrolysis and novel conversion technologies, which included presentations by Dough Elliot (PNNL) and BK Sharma (Illinois Sustainable Technology Centre), two of the researchers whose work is strongly related to my planned research.
Most of the plenary sessions were strongly policy focused. One of the most interesting sessions was on Global land use competition: routes to solutions, with presentations by Tim Benton and Jem Woods. Particularly the concept of planning global food production and identifying Africa as a key area for agricultural growth sparked a lot of debate in our group as to the ethics of making these decisions on a global scale. This session was followed by the conference dinner held inside Manchester cathedral. Whilst it felt a bit strange to socialize in a still active church, the cathedral was a beautiful and highly impressive setting.
For me the most important aspect of the conference was however to meet other researchers in my area, such as Patrick Biller, who was one of the first researchers to attempt hydrothermal liquefaction of microalgae, and discuss the direction of future research.