Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme: successful projects – GOV.UK

biomass-feedstocks-innovation-programme:-successful-projects-–-gov.uk

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The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has awarded £4 million of funding for the project development stage of the Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, with up to £200,000 of funding per project.

This will enable 24 organisations, including start-ups and small- and medium-sized enterprises, to develop strong project proposals that will deliver commercially viable innovations in biomass production.

The competition is separated into 2 lots:

lot 1 - innovation projects
lot 2 - multi-site demonstrator platforms designed to showcase the variety of lot 1 innovation projects in a range of UK locations

Further details on the funded projects for each category can be found below, grouped by biomass feedstock type.

Lot 1: innovation projects

Algae

Transforming UK offshore marine algae biomass production

Led by SeaGrown Limited.

Seaweed is a fast-growing source of biomass and can remove significant quantities of carbon from the atmosphere. It also benefits the marine environment by supplying a variety of ecosystem services - oxygenating seawater, removing excess nutrients and providing a habitat for marine life.

This project seeks to apply SeaGrown’s experience in seaweed production to mechanise offshore farming. Within the project, SeaGrown will design a prototype offshore seeding and harvesting system, to determine its viability, optimise deployment speeds, yields and improve operational efficiencies.

Visit the SeaGrown website for more information.

MISTY: Microalgae Biomass Sustainability

Led by Green Fuels Research Ltd.

MISTY intends to increase microalgal biomass productivity in the UK by co-culturing microalgae with bacteria, using wastewaters from breweries and dairy industries.

The key innovation lies in growing the microalgal strains in conditions adapted to the UK’s weather by using two bioreactor systems, one taking advantage of natural sunlight during spring/summer period, the second using the organic compounds present in the waste waters as carbon sources in darkness. The MISTY project will help breweries and dairy industries to tackle climate change. Further advantages of the MISTY system include the non-requirement of drinking water or arable land for biomass production.

Gold to Green to Gold (3Gs): Whisky by-products to enhance production of microalgal biomass and reduce carbon emissions

Led by Phycofoods Ltd.

The manufacturing process of whisky produces large amounts of by-products including carbon dioxide (CO2) and anaerobic digestion digestate. A number of approaches to add value to these by-products exist but these produce additional CO2 rather than reducing emissions. The “3 G’s” approach uses CO2 and residual nutrients coupled with green energy to produce sustainable high-value microalgal biomass, which will be used as biostimulant to improve barley production or as feed for aquaculture.

Integrated microalgae biomass production via carbon dioxide sequestration

Led by SEaB Power Ltd.

Growing microalgae is a promising strategy for CO2 removal and biomass production. Microalgae perform photosynthesis better than many plants, they do not require large agricultural land, they are tolerant to extreme conditions and have fast proliferation rates. Microalgae have many uses once harveste. For example, they can be used for biofuel production, fodder for livestock, and have many applications in colorants, food and chemicals.

This project will evaluate important design criteria, technical feasibility and economic viability of microalgae at sequestering carbon dioxide and biomass production.

Visit the SEaB website for more information.

MiDas

Led by Impact Laboratories Limited, trading as Impact Solutions with support from Strathclyde University.

MiDas will create a system for the commercial cultivation of algae which is commonly used within the food processing industry, both human and livestock, as a highly nutritious additive. In addition, the growth of the algae can be used as part of a carbon capture scheme with the non-edible components of it used to create bio-polymers.

Currently there is no UK based cultivation of Spirulina due to the climatic conditions required for productive growth and hence the majority of the world’s production is located within south Asia. This project would create a new industry within the UK, onshoring jobs while utilising both existing farmland and allowing the use of Brownfield sites for biomass cultivation. The project is centred around extracting mine water from abandoned mine sites that have been geothermally heated, and utilising this heat to provide the optimal growing conditions for the biomass.

Visit the Impact Solutions website for more information.

Miscanthus

Miscanspeed

Led by Aberystwyth University.

The aim of this project is to demonstrate the use of genomic selection (GS) in accelerating the breeding of high yielding, resilient Miscanthus varieties for the UK. GS has been demonstrated to increase the rate of genetic gain in commercial annual crops (for example, maize, wheat), and Aberystwyth University have previously demonstrated its feasibility in a simplified Miscanthus system. What is now required is to test and implement this innovation in our Miscanthus breeding populations.

Key advantages are that GS can shorten the time required (by 2 years) for a key step in the breeding cycle, tackle logistical and cost issues of retaining parent plants to maturity, and enable selection for complex traits. Implementation in Miscanthus breeding should therefore deliver an effective and flexible breeding platform for the future. The current area of Miscanthus production is almost entirely planted with a single clone and scaling up will require a wider range of varieties in order to provide resilience to climate and environmental factors.

Technological Innovations in Mobile Pelletisation

Led by White Horse Energy Ltd.

This project’s core aim is to apply mobile pelletiser technology to energy crops in the UK, thereby opening up a significant new source of pellets for the UK market, currently the world’s largest.

The project will pursue a set of technical innovations designed to extend mobile pelletising to miscanthus, both at harvest sites and stored in farmyards, as well as to woody energy crops.

The work includes a rigorous assessment of the cost and carbon benefits such innovations would bring for UK pellet supply chains as well as implications for market-level supply and demand of pellets sourced from the UK compared with imports. Additionally, White Horse Energy will survey a range of UK farmers and energy crop growers to ensure our proposed innovations are as practically useful to the market as possible.

Automated planting, weeding and harvesting of Miscanthus in harsh environments, exploiting complimentary microalgal production for increased revenue options

Led by Systems, Power and Energy Research Division, University of Glasgow.

There has been growing interest and deployment in Precision Agricultural Systems (PAS). PAS is generally deployed on ‘flat’ agricultural lands, utilised for food crops, and requires expensive architectures and infrastructure. It is currently quite difficult to operate and scale, particularly in harsh environments.

Miscanthus is a proven energy crop with new genetic varieties available that can grow in harsh regions (for example, wet, cold, marginal lands). The project focuses on delivering solutions to expanding Miscanthus farming to harsh environments using PAS (drones, lang based vehicles, sensors and communication systems). This opens opportunities to scale Miscanthus growth in harsher regions to improve national yields, reduce carbon consumption from farming and identify new business opportunities and additional revenue streams.

Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanisation and data capture to meet net zero targets (OMENZ)

Led by Terravesta Farms Limited.

The OMENZ project will analyse the whole Miscanthus establishment pipeline, including approaches to field preparation, different machinery and techniques for planting, and the technology used to monitor early-stage growth. Doing so will allow identification of the areas where the project can achieve the most significant gains to efficiency and cost reduction.

The project then aims to trial a range of new technologies, which can lead to the development of automation systems that will increase the efficiency of various establishment processes. The project will also utilise drone technology and machine learning to quantify establishment. The project will utilise a platform for integrated data collection from all stages of the establishment pipeline alongside existing harvest and growth data, allowing us to gain insights into long term crop performance.

Visit the Terravesta Farms website for more information.

Hemp

HEMP-30: catalysing a step change in the production and utilisation of industrial hemp as a biorefinery crop in the UK

Led by University of York.

The key objective of the HEMP-30 project is to accelerate a major expansion of the breeding, growing, harvesting and utilisation of industrial hemp as a UK crop through the 2020s and 2030s.

The fast annual growth of industrial hemp allows the crop to remove significant quantities of CO2 per hectare each year. Industrial hemp has excellent environmental qualities as a soil health improver with low input needs, representing an excellent secondary crop for farmers.

The university will work during Phase 1 to:

fully survey the national and international industrial hemp landscape
engage with the UK hemp growers and the other supply chain stakeholders
develop a 10-year roadmap describing how a significantly expanded hemp breeding, farming, processing, and production industry will be established in the UK

Short rotation coppice (willow)

Accelerating Willow Breeding and Deployment (AWBD)

Led by Rothamsted Research.

This project will develop a plan to accelerate the breeding of willows (Salix spp.) for biomass and generate information to guide deployment of current willow varieties. Unlike most trees, willow has tremendous potential for genetic improvement. Willows are highly diverse, grow rapidly, flower within a year from seed, and are clonally propagated. Rothamsted Research breeders have exploited some of the enormous diversity in willows. With renewed interest in bioenergy in the UK it is timely to re-invigorate that effort using the latest innovations.

Genomic selection (GS) is a new but well-proven DNA technology to inform and guide breeders on the value of different individuals. GS will improve selection for complex traits in the breeding of willows including yield and improve confidence in the choice of parents and offspring, eliminating the need for several years of preliminary field testing. This will accelerate improved variety production and deployment, whilst lowering breeding costs.

Upscaling UK SRC Willow Planting and Harvesting Capacity 

Led by Rickerby Estates Ltd (trading as Willow Energy).

The anticipated increase in demand for short rotation coppice (SRC) will require new innovations for multiplying plant material, establishing the crop and harvesting the biomass produced.

This project proposes 3 innovations that will improve the perennial energy crops sector by significantly increasing the scale up potential of the SRC supply chain.

The 3 innovations are:

an autonomous willow rod processing machine controlled by a GPS satellite guidance system
an autonomous SRC willow planting machine 
a purpose-built tracked willow harvester with storage bunker

Currently, all SRC willow planting material is produced and processed by hand. Similarly, planting relies on operatives working long hours with 30-year-old technology. The solutions to be investigated in this project could increase efficiency and provide a pathway towards significantly increasing planting potential. 

Soilless cultivation for rapid bioenergy feedstock production

Led by the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Surrey.

This project will develop a rapid alternative cultivation system for dedicated bioenergy feedstocks. Specifically, it aims to demonstrate how growing crops without the use of soil (aeroponic technology) can be used for rapid feedstock production, and the energy and environmental opportunities and challenges of doing so.

Based on previous research, the University of Surrey have found that growth of willow for bioenergy was faster in soilless conditions, with significantly more biomass produced in the same timeframe. This innovative technology has the potential to deliver bioenergy feedstocks over a smaller land footprint than current field-based cultivation.

Proving low ground pressure harvesting equipment in the field to extend SRC willow and poplar wood crops harvesting season

Led by ECCL 2020 Limited.

The project aims to increase UK biomass feedstock production through innovation of harvesting and planting technology on standard machinery such as harvesters, tractors and trailers.

Biomass supply chain companies will be able to licence new intellectual property to scale up access to machinery, which will then be able to work on a wider range of land and soil types, in a wider range of weather conditions, subsequently increasing the harvesting and planting seasons. In addition, these innovations will allow the supply chain to benefit from economies of scale that make servicing the sector a viable option. ECCL will also create a decision tool for landowners to assess opportunities for them to increase SRC willow and poplar crops.

Semi-wild crop

Marginal land biomass harvesting and extraction using drone assisted technology

Led by Hennock International Ltd.

Marginal land represents a potentially significant biomass resource. Bracken is generally present on marginal land, and current estimates put the bracken coverage at 1.5 million hectares, increasing by 30,000 hectares annually, and with a large estimated achievable harvest.

The project objective is to develop and demonstrate a harvesting system for bracken on marginal land using a single pass harvesting system with GPS location. This data will be obtained by machine vision analysis (from a previous drone fly-past, identifying rocks, tree stumps, gullies etc.) guiding the harvesting operation. The single pass harvesting will include both specialist designed and modified equipment.

Teesdale Moorland Biomass

Led by Teesdale Environmental Consulting Ltd (TEC Ltd).

The conventional approach to biomass development has been to assume that upland areas in England are unsuitable for any biomass energy crop growth. This has meant that efforts to boost biomass crop production have had to focus on land that may already have other productive uses. However, heather grows readily in upland areas, with about 350,000 hectares of managed heather moor in England alone. These moors, and other upland areas where invasive species such as bracken are considered a nuisance, often adopt rotational top vegetation burning as a land management tool. Each year between 15,000 to 30,000 hectares of moorland are burned in England, with thousands of tonnes of dry matter burned, losing any resultant heat energy.

The Teesdale Moorland Biomass Project aims to utilise this existing crop and harvest commercially viable biomass products from naturally generated moorland crops that are currently burned in situ as part of annual land management practices.

Harvesting Agricultural Hedges for Biomass Production

Led by J George Limited, trading as Hej Harvester.

Agricultural hedges are often treated as a necessary field boundary that require costly maintenance. This project will change both the perception and use of agricultural hedges. It is estimated that there are 500,000 miles of agricultural hedgerows in the UK, which if harvested could make a significant contribution to UK feedstock production.

The project will focus on replacing energy intensive existing hedge cutters, which discard randomly sized pieces of hedge cuttings in the field or on roads to rot. The project will also focus on cutting the hedge growth into uniform size pieces of biomass ready for on farm burning or to be sold as a commodity to biomass users.

Phase 1 funding will allow the project to move from the design and patent pending stage to producing a very basic prototype cutting head to mount on a tractor.

Visit the Hej Harvester website for more information.

Forestry

Integrated whole tree extraction and on site pre-processing of under-yielding forest resources

Led by Mostex Global Solutions Ltd.

Undermanaged commercial forestry is a significant area that can increase UK biomass supply. Many areas were established historically from the 1960’s through to the 1980’s when tax and establishment schemes drove large scale plantings. In hindsight many areas planted were not optimal. This has resulted in many hectares failing to deliver their expected growth potential. When combined with often remote locations these forests are uneconomic to harvest given current methods and markets.

This project will focus on whole tree harvesting, which will allow for ground remediation or replanting. It will also focus on pre-processing in-forest to produce a clean feedstock for fuel or other purposes. When the whole tree is harvested, including needles and bark, impurities such as chlorine and potassium will create corrosion and lead to a low ash melting point building clinker. Further processing is therefore essential to allow combustion in standard boilers.

Visit the Mostex website for more information.

Development of a biodegradable, bio-based tree shelter that improves planting efficiency

Led by NMC2 Limited with support from the Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies at the University of Bath.

On average 40% of trees planted in newly established woodlands across the UK are damaged or destroyed by wildlife. NMC2 will create a bio-based, biodegradable tree shelter, which will prevent new woodlands, for biomass cultivation, being destroyed by wildlife, in particular deer and squirrel. NMC2 will use natural and waste materials sourced from the UK to create a non-toxic tree guard that is bitter-tasting to wildlife. As the tree shelter biodegrades, it will enrich the soil and feed the woodland.

Using geospatial data science to identify optimal planting sites for forestry-based biomass production

Led by Forest Creation Partners (FCP) with support from Forest Research (FR)

FCP’s ForestFounder system combines a wide range of geospatial data to identify optimal sites for productive forestry. Because ForestFounder can scan almost unlimited areas algorithmically, it provides a unique capability to unlock investment in biomass production, by helping landowners decide where and what to plant within their estates and advising investors on optimal sites to acquire or lease for planting.

This project will expand ForestFounder’s geographical coverage from England to Great Britain and broaden its species coverage (currently limited to Long Rotation Forestry) to include SRC and short rotation forestry (SRF). It will also improve its ability to account for future climate change in its species recommendations. This could greatly enhance the potential for GB biomass production by increasing the number, and variety, and productivity of sites available.

As part of this project, Forest Research will update its open species suitability datasets to use the UK Climate Projections 2018, and will publish the first ever datasets on the climatic suitability of SRC and SRF species across Great Britain.

Visit the FCP website for more information.

Energy crops

Enhanced vegetative propagation combined with new variety introductions to expand energy crop production

Led by New Energy Farms (NEF).

Perennial energy grass (PEG) crops are an important source of biomass but expansion of the cropping area has been curtailed by a lack of new, improved varieties and the difficulties of multiplying and planting PEG crops, which are usually vegetatively propagated.

There are a number of successful PEG breeding programmes around the world and this project will focus on accessing different species and varieties from these programmes to evaluate them in the UK and provide industry and growers with a wider choice of cropping and biomass options. Using a range of new PEG varieties has the potential to increase biomass yields, reduce costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Visit the NEF website for more information.

Lot 2: multi-site demonstrator

BIOFIND: the Biomass Feedstock Innovation Demonstration Platform

Led by UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

The BioFIND Phase 1 project will design and plan a UK-wide, multi-site demonstration platform for biomass feedstock production. It will support the development and trialling of innovations that address current barriers to large-scale domestic biomass supply in the UK.

The creation of the BioFIND platform will build a regionally based community who will contribute to the development, establishment and operation of the platform. Building this focal point for the industry will support the ambitious scaling up of both the bioenergy industry itself and the scale of planting.

NIAB multi-site energy crop demonstrator

Led by NIAB.

The NIAB project would run trials and a demonstration programme that will allow innovations relating to second generation energy crops to be assessed and compared both among themselves and to current industry standard approaches.

The NIAB trials and demonstration programme will be run at multiple sites across the UK. The project will focus on selecting sites that provide an appropriate range of climatic conditions and soil types to assess a range of innovations. In addition, Phase 1 will develop protocols for the assessment to be thorough and to deliver data that informs the decision making of growers and their advisors when looking at energy crops as an option for their land. These assessments will be based on whole life economic and environmental impacts of the crops, equipment and growing systems.

Visit the NIAB website for more information.

PromoBio

Led by Reheat (Renewable Technologies) Limited.

The overarching objective of PromoBio is to ensure that biomass feedstocks projects within the UK have access to the tools and resources - both practical and human - that they need in order to make rapid progress towards meeting their own aims. To do this, PromoBio will provide a geographical development laboratory, which stretches the length and breadth of the UK and will provide a core team of recognised biomass industry experts, supplemented by access to a wider pool of market, scientific and practical biomass expertise from leading industry and academic partners from the UK and overseas.

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