Bioenergy is the energy derived from biomass feedstocks, such as dedicated energy crops, forestry and municipal wastes, algae, or agricultural residues, and/or the utilisation of a biological process, such as the conversion of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas to alkanes using microbes. These feedstocks and processes can be used generate heat, electricity or transport biofuels.
Replacing fossil fuels with advanced biofuels will support the emerging bioeconomy and could deliver significant economic and environmental benefits with impacts felt in employment and economic growth, human health and in a range of ecosystems covering improvements in air, soil, water and biodiversity. Biomass can be burned directly to generate heat and/or power either on its own or ‘co-fired’ alongside conventional fuels such as coal. Alternatively, biomass can be converted into gaseous or liquid ‘biofuels’ via biochemical or thermochemical processes. Advanced biofuels have the advantage that they can be used as ‘drop-in’ fuels alongside conventional fossil fuels.
We are currently supporting research in this area with a large portfolio. Many projects include collaborations with industrial partners, which helps to attract further funding and potential inward investment.
Within our portfolio we have allocated funds for a SUPERGEN Bioenergy Consortium. We are also supporting a number of other major centres such as The TSEC-BIOSYS Consortium which focuses on the technical, economic, environmental and social issues related to the development of Bioenergy in the UK.
Other centres include the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (BSBEC) and The Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) programme. BSBEC was launched in 2009 and remains the largest single UK investment in bioenergy research (£20M) and was coupled to an additional £4M of business investment through its six research hubs. Each with a different focus, the six research hubs brought together research spanning biomass growth, deconstruction and biological conversion. The BSBEC was funded as part of the RCUK Energy Programme. The RELU programme studied the social, economic and environmental implications of increased land use for energy crops.
As part of the RCUK Energy Programme, BBSRC have released a bioenergy position statement. The statement highlights current activities and future challenges within bioenergy research. The BBSRC has also recently conducted a public dialogue around bioenergy. The report of this public dialogue is available via the BBSRC website. BBSRC also chairs the Bioenergy Strategic Coordination Group (BSCG), a subgroup bringing the relevant Research Councils together to discuss the complex issues specific to Bioenergy.
The RCUK Energy Programme and TSB jointly organised the International Bioenergy Conference 2014. Researchers from all over the world attended the event from March 11-13 2014 to hear about some of the latest developments in bioenergy science and consider questions relating to the field, including policy, commercialisation and international collaboration.
Continuing support in this area will ensure that bioenergy has a role to play alongside fossil fuels. Research will continue to address important sustainability issues including crop yields, water dependence and the availability of land for energy and food crops. The successful translation of research underpinning the production of advance fuels will help the UK meet its commitments for 2050 under the Climate Change Act and the 2020 Renewable Energy Directive targets. The commercialisation of advance fuels should encourage increased sustainability, energy security and economic growth.