We’re taking a closer look at the projects that have received funding under the UK government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, to see what materials will be making up the feedstocks of our future.
Last week we dove into the algae-based projects that were successful in receiving this funding and this week, we’ll look at two materials that the funding has turned its focus on; miscanthus and hemp. The former is a large, perennial kind of grass that was considered to be a weed before it was discovered to be an ideal candidate for biofuel production – due to its efficacy in capturing carbon dioxide, its ability to grow in harsh conditions and its production of high-quality biomass. The latter is a similarly promising plant for biomass as it is one of the fastest growing plants in the world (alongside bamboo). Already popular for use in food, beauty and clothing products, waste material from the plant is bountiful, and using these stalks and leaves as a source for biofuel is a neat way to close the loop on this popular plant.
The projects below harness one or the other of these super-plants, offering innovative solutions to help bring them into widespread commercial use.
Aberystwyth University: Miscanspeed
The Welsh university of Aberystwyth was a successful applicant for the funding, with the money to be put towards its genomic selection (GS) project, working to accelerate resilient Miscanthus yields in the UK. The team are using a method that has already proven effective in boosting crops such as maize and wheat, as well as a simplified Miscanthus variety. Testing this method on more complex systems of the plant is next for the project, with the intention of establishing a breeding platform for future cultivation of the plant.
White Horse Energy: Technological Innovations in Mobile Pelletisation
The project from White Horse Energy is looking to harness mobile pelletiser technology and bring it to energy crops in the UK – which currently represents the world’s largest pellet market. The team is working towards applying the tech to Miscanthus crops in particular, alongside other woody energy crops.
The project will seek to bring Metritron Gmbh’s mobile pelletiser technology into the UK market, and connect farms to the UK grid to make them energy hubs in themselves.
Assessments of the cost and carbon benefits of this tech will also be undertaken as part of the project, as well as a survey of UK farmers and energy crop growers to monitor the use of this tech on crops.
University of Glasgow: Precision Agricultural Systems (PAS)
The project led by this Scottish university is looking at streamlining agricultural systems to help expand Miscanthus crops into harsher terrains that typically prove unfriendly to cultivation. The PAS structure uses technologies such as drones, sensors and communication systems to monitor and improve Miscanthus growth – targeting carbon consumption and improving yields.
Terravesta Farms Limited: OMENZ
The OMENZ, or ‘Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanisation and data capture to meet Net Zero targets’, project intends to help pave the way for more Miscanthus growth in the UK. The team will analyse the entire supply chain of the plant, identifying areas for improvement in both efficiency and cost-reduction using tech such as drones and machine learning.
Once these areas have been identified, the team will then trial a range of technologies to remedy the problems and streamline operations. Data will be collected and stored on a platform that will provide long-term insights into crop performance.
As Michael Squance, Terravesta’s science and technology director, explains; “The OMENZ project will pave the way for more perennial bioenergy crops to be planted, by developing the technologies and infrastructure needed.”
University of York: HEMP-30
The University of York, alongside the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC), won funding under the Government’s scheme for its HEMP-30 project, an initiative set up to accelerate the cultivation and use of industrial hemp in the UK between the 2020s and 2030s. Under the project, the team aims to increase the amount of industrial hemp in Britain from 800 hectares to 80,000 hectares.
The project will draw on the University’s history in molecular plant breeding technology, which will be harnessed to modify and improve hemp strains to suit the needs of current and future markets.
Under the scheme the university will also survey the industrial hemp landscape (both domestic and abroad), and develop a 10 year roadmap to set hemp on the path to expansion.