It has been announced that scientists at Southampton University will take part in two key projects for developing a renewable energy system for the UK. The new schemes will assess the viability of biomass fuels in a cost-effective and sustainable energy system that can be implemented throughout the country by 2050 as part of government climate control targets.
The use of biomass in a domestic setting has been of increasing interest to both environmentalists and politicians in recent years, as the use of living organisms in plant matter (which are also present in waste material, wood, hydrogen gas, and alcohol fuels) has become more accessible as the necessary technology for implementation has developed. It is hoped that biomass fuels could satisfy up to 10 % of the UK's energy needs in the future, as well as help to substantially lower the emissions of greenhouse gases.
The new projects have been launched by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), a public/private partnership between the UK government and leading international industries that will inform policy developments for future bioenergy deployment and to help the shift towards a low carbon economy and a lowering of greenhouse gas emissions by 80 % by 2050.
It is hoped the projects will play a big part in the UK’s drive towards more sustainable energy consumption. According to Greg Barker, Energy and Climate Change Minister, “Bioenergy has the potential to play a key role in low carbon energy generation in the future, which is why we need groundbreaking innovation today.”
The aim of the initiative is to establish field trials for exploring both ecosystems and sustainability when land is converted for bioenergy crop production, assess the cost-effectiveness and technological issues around producing energy from biomass and carbon capture and storage (CCS), and also to examine the main problems faced in developing sustainable bioenergy supply chains for fuel production.
The work at the University of Southampton will focus on an Ecosystem Land-Use Modeling (ELUM) trial and a Biomass Systems Value Chain Modeling project. ELUM is a three-year long study into the impact of bioenergy crop land-use changes on soil carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions. Research will examine how these energy crops take up carbon dioxide, the extent of which is retained in crop and soil, and how much is actually released back into the environment. The Biomass Systems Value Chain Modeling project will attempt to estimate both the current and future supply of biomass for the UK in relation to its overlap with agriculture and nature conservation.
Akira Kirton, Technology Strategy Manager at the ETI, also pointed out that “These projects will analyze a wide range of biomass crops and energy conversion technologies to inform the development and deployment of effective bioenergy solutions, and will also guide the ETI's bioenergy strategy and help inform the UK benefits case for the sector.”


Laurie Donaldon