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Perennial bioenergy crops

Biomass from fast-growing trees and grasses is a sustainable source of renewable energy. However we need to improve the yields of biomass feedstock to meet government objectives in bioenergy and biofuel. The biggest challenges are to improve yields without increasing inputs and to make more of the plants' carbon available for conversion into biofuels.

Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
Image: Rothamsted Research

Aims and objectives

  • Improve willow and Miscanthus as sources of sustainable biomass for bioenergy and biofuels
  • Optimise sustainable biomass yield by genetic improvement of plants to increase the amount of sunlight captured, the amount of carbon a plant can assimilate over a growing season and the partitioning of the carbon in harvested biomass
  • Identify crop variants with improved composition
  • Develop tools for selecting genotypes in which more of the carbon in the lignocellulosic (cell wall) component can be captured for bioenergy

Key resources and technologies

  • National Willow Collection
  • Miscanthus Germplasm Collection
  • Long-running mapping populations and field experiments
  • Genetic maps and genomic resources in Miscanthus and willow
  • State-of-the-art laboratories for genomics and composition analysis
  • Expertise in biomathematics, bioinformatics and crop modelling
  • Industrial partners with biofuel, bioenergy and energy crop expertise
  • Established breeding pipelines in willow and Miscanthus

Programme lead

  • Rothamsted Research

Associated programme members

  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS)
  • Imperial College, London
  • University of Cambridge
  • Ceres Inc

Case study – Plant scientists reach for the skies

A futuristic rooftop greenhouse, built on top of a five-storey building at Imperial College London, is providing scientists over 200 square metres of temperature- and light-controlled growing space for a variety of plant species, allowing them to carry out large-scale plant experiments in an urban location for the first time.

Dr Nicholas Brereton
Dr Nicholas Brereton

Fifty young willows have been planted in the 'GroDome' by researchers from Imperial’s Division of Biology and the Porter Institute for Biofuels. Principal Investigator Dr Richard Murphy explained, "If we can find efficient, low energy ways of getting our hands on the vast quantities of sugars and other chemicals locked up in willows and other woody biomass crops we will unlock a key non-food resource for biofuels that grows easily in cool climates like the UK.

"The support we have had from the Porter Institute, Rothamsted Research and the new BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre has been a key element in getting this vital research going".