The EnviroCrops web app project has been awarded £1.57 million of funding from BEIS through the Biomass Feedstocks Innovation (BFI) Programme.
The project is led by the Agri Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) with support from two energy in agriculture consultancies: Crops for Energy and NFU Energy, and a software development company, Calvium.
The EnviroCrops app is envisaged as a central source of impartial information on biomass crops in an easy-to-access, free or low-cost, user-friendly format that will enable farmers, land managers, and consultants to make an informed decision on planting and marketing crops such as willow, miscanthus, poplar, eucalyptus, and hemp.
What the project partners say:
"The commercial focus of the EnviroCrops app will help put farmers in the driving seat and allow them to access good quality, up-to-date information to ensure they can make the best decisions for their business. By building this system with renowned consultancies and significant experienced grower input, the system will be the best developed and relevant in the marketplace and could help turn biomass crops from marginal options into real winners," said Jon Swain, NFU Energy.
BEIS has said: "Accelerating home-grown renewables like biomass is a key part of ending our dependency on expensive and volatile fossil fuels. This £37 million of government investment will support innovation across the UK, boosting jobs while ensuring greater energy security for years to come."
The Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme is a £36 million program funded through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy's £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, which aims to accelerate the commercialization of innovative clean energy technologies and processes through the 2020s and 2030s.
Biomass crops include Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) willow, Short Rotation Forestry (SRF) eucalyptus, the energy grass Miscanthus and hemp. These crops are fast-growing, high yielding, and grown in dense plantations of up to 20,000 plants per hectare. Most options are perennial and grow back once they are cut to ground level. Miscanthus is harvested annually, SRC willow is harvested every three years, and SRF is harvested from 8 years onwards.
There are currently around 10,000-20,000 hectares of perennial biomass crops planted in the UK. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) states that in order to meet Net Zero targets, the UK will require 700,000 hectares of biomass crops to be planted by 2050.
Most biomass crops are grown for bioenergy and used in power stations or smaller heating boilers. There are many other emerging and potentially more lucrative markets for biomass crops, including biocomposites, animal bedding, biochar, forage, and pharmaceuticals.
Perennial biomass crops sequester carbon as they grow – not only in their stems but also in their roots and soil. Currently, there is no official mechanism for farmers to benefit from carbon sequestered by biomass crops on their land.
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