Sustainable bioenergy: the issues

Bioenergy is expected to deliver 12% of the UK's primary energy demand by 2050, playing a key role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, providing a secure energy supply and meeting carbon reduction targets  (DECC Bioenergy Strategy, 2012).

There is uncertainty surrounding the potential of bioenergy crops to deliver genuine GHG reductions due to lack of knowledge of the GHG emissions from land management and impacts of land-use change to bioenergy crops on soil carbon stocks.

There are a range of feedstocks that can be grown for bioenergy, but they can have positive or negative effects on soil carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions depending on the crop, its management and the type of land used.

The costs and benefits of bioenergy need to be assessed across the complete life-cycle from crop planting to combustion/conversion.

Bioenergy and land-use change research in UKCEH

UKCEH and NERC funded scientists are leading the way in addressing the uncertainties surrounding bioenergy sustainability, conducting research on the impacts of land-use change to bioenergy on soil carbon and GHG emissions. These projects have laid the foundations for the most comprehensive assessment of the net carbon balance of bioenergy crops ever made.

The Ecosystem Land Use Modelling & Soil Carbon Trial (ELUM) was a seven-member consortium project, led by Niall McNamara of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and funded and commissioned by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI). The £4M project has developed a significant evidence base on soil carbon and greenhouse gas fluxes associated with land use change, and developed a modelling framework to predict the likely impact of biomass production on soil carbon stocks across the UK.

Carbo-Biocrop funded by the NERC Land-Based Renewables Programme (2010-2014) focused on improving understanding of the processes determining soil carbon balance under perennial bioenergy crops. This project was led by Gail Taylor at Southampton University in collaboration with CEH, Rothamsted, UEA, Edinburgh, Warwick and Aberystwyth Universities.

Measurement and Analysis of bioenergy greenhouse gases: Integrating GHGs into LCAs and the UK Bioenergy Value Chain Modelling Environment.  This project funded through the EPSRC Supergen Bioenergy Challenge II (2015-2018) aims to fill knowledge gaps in GHG emissions estimates associated with land-use change which have been highlighted in ELUM and Carbo-Biocrop.  These include the effects of management interventions on GHG hotspots in the bioenergy crop life-cycle.

The Knowledge Exchange Challenge

There are huge opportunities in the development of close relationships between researchers, businesses, policymakers and regulators. These include opportunities to develop innovative research questions and approaches and exploit novel funding routes for research on urgent issues currently facing human society – energy, climate change and the development of sustainable resources.

This Knowledge Exchange fellowship aims to facilitate innovative approaches to the sustainability challenges of bioenergy production.  The primary focus will be to stimulate the exchange of knowledge on the impacts of land-use change to bioenergy on soil carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions, with wider sustainability issues of bioenergy also incorporated.  

Knowledge Exchange Activities

An international stakeholder workshop on the "Global Challenges of Bioenergy and Land-use change" organised by CEH and ETI, was held at CEH Lancaster in June 2015. The goals and key recommendations of the workshop are described in this blog.

Principal Investigator

2019-present:   Soil and Land Use Scientist (Band 4), UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster
2013-present:   Ecologist (Band 5), Centre for Ecology & Hydrology Lancaster.
2001-2013:      Ecologist (Band 6), Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster.
1998-2001:      NERC Postdoctoral Fellowship: "Biochemical biomarkers of heavy metal stress in plants"