Knowledge Exchange for Bioenergy

Jan 15, 2015

Bioenergy is expected to deliver 12% of the UK’s primary energy demand by 2050. However, concern has been raised that for some bioenergy crops carbon emissions over their life-cycle can be significant. There is considerable uncertainty over the carbon savings delivered by bioenergy and this has been identified by global industry and the UK government as a major bottleneck constraining the expansion of bioenergy deployment.

Scientists from the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (Jeanette Whitaker and Niall McNamara) travelled to the Brazilian Bioenergy Science and Technology conference (BBEST) to promote NERC research on terrestrial bioenergyOver the last 10 years the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has funded research aimed at reducing uncertainty over the environmental sustainability of bioenergy. Research projects funded by NERC and RCUK in collaboration with industry and government are contributing evidence to the debate on which bioenergy crops we should grow and where we should grow them in order to maximise greenhouse gas savings. Issues examined include soil carbon storage under energy crops and the consequences of changing land-use from arable and grassland to bioenergy, known as direct land-use change, on soil carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

Projects including Carbo-Biocrop (NERC) and the Ecosystem Land-use Modelling project funded by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI ELUM) are delivering world-class research which provides a potential scientific solution for the robust assessment of direct effects of land-use change to bioenergy at a location-specific level. Outcomes from these projects include the most comprehensive assessment of net carbon balance of bioenergy; world-leading infrastructure for bioenergy land-use transitions; and state-of-the art modelling of direct land-use change to bioenergy.

Jeanette Whitaker, winner of the Knowledge Exchange for BioenergyIn October 2014 Dr Jeanette Whitaker (pictured left) from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster was awarded a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship from NERC.  Jeanette is a senior research scientist with expertise in plant and soil science and the environmental sustainability of bioenergy. One key aim of this fellowship is to ensure that the knowledge produced through these research projects reaches policy makers enabling more informed decisions to be made to ensure the sustainability of bioenergy feedstocks used in the UK.

Over the next 3 years, she will engage with industry and government agencies to co-design future research which delivers to the needs of business and society, and will explore opportunities to exploit novel funding routes for research on these urgent issues currently facing human society – energy, climate change and the development of sustainable resources.