Research led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) is central to a new report on the role sustainable bioenergy can play in moving the UK towards a low carbon economy.
The new report, by the Energy Technologies Institute, features results from the Ecosystem Land-use Modelling project (ELUM) led by Dr Niall McNamara from CEH. This four-year, £4M project has demonstrated that bioenergy can deliver greenhouse gas savings, but the level of savings depends on the choice of crop, the type of land which is planted and the location of that land.
The report summarises research from the ELUM project which used a network of 74 sites across the UK to assess changes in soil carbon and greenhouse gas emission from planting bioenergy crops on different types of land.
The CEH team assessed soil carbon stocks at sites across the UK and measured greenhouse gas emissions at a smaller number of more intensively monitored sites. This data was then used to develop an Ecosystem Modelling Tool which provides a spatially explicit view of the effects of land use change to bioenergy crops on soil carbon stocks and soil greenhouse gas emissions across the UK.
Project co-ordinator Dr Niall McNamara from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, “The ELUM project has produced the most comprehensive UK assessment of the net carbon balance of bioenergy cultivation. Our results have helped underpin the wider Energy Technologies Institute analysis which highlights the best options for growing UK bioenergy.”
Key conclusions from the study were that:
- Changing land-use from arable land to second generation bioenergy crops showed net greenhouse gas savings (increase in soil carbon and/or reduction in greenhouse gas emissions), relative to continued arable land use.
- Soil nitrous oxide emissions were seen to be small relative to CO2 emissions from the soil, and methane emissions were negligible across all land use transitions assessed.
- Modelling outputs showed that favourable locations for arable to second generation bioenergy crop transitions were relatively uniformly spread across the UK; whilst locations for grassland to Short rotation forestry transitions for example, were concentrated in the central to southern parts of the UK.
Geraldine Newton-Cross (ETI), the report's author said, “The planting of 30,000 hectares a year of second generation bioenergy crops and short rotation forestry on marginal arable land or appropriate grassland would keep the UK on the trajectory for scaling up domestic biomass production out to the 2050s.”