Giant boost for biofuel

26 April 2012

Dr. John Clifton-Brown with Miscanthus, which is also known as Elephant Grass.
Dr. John Clifton-Brown with Miscanthus, which is also known as Elephant Grass.

The development of a promising biofuel crop, Miscanthus, has been given a boost today with the announcement of an additional £6.4 M in UK Government funding, over five years, for an integrated and collaborative breeding programme.

The breeding programme aims to produce new commercial varieties of optimised Miscanthus to make a significant contribution to future energy security.

The development of crops as sources of bioenergy is an important component in finding economically acceptable substitutes for fossil fuels.

Miscanthus, a ubiquitous Asian grass with high yields and requiring low inputs, is a particularly promising plant species for bioenergy development.

The new collaborative breeding programme will further link previous research on Miscanthus at IBERS (funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2004-2010 and by Ceres, Inc., an integrated energy crop seed company (from 2007 onwards), to a suite of co-ordinated research projects funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) that underpin breeding science.

It will result in a single, integrated Miscanthus breeding programme, backed by strong science, to develop new varieties with improved qualities making them suitable for commercialisation.

Dr. John Clifton-Brown, the project leader at IBERS said:
“Miscanthus’ excellent physiological characteristics put it amongst the most promising plant species for the production of lignocellulosic biomass in the UK and beyond. Targets for improvement include not only increased yield and quality, but also seed based varieties and faster establishment rates that will provide yield increases at lower costs.

“This LINK funding and the bringing together of universities and industries will speed up the development of the new commercial Miscanthus varieties to make a major contribution towards our target to double net energy yield per hectare before 2030,” he added.

The additional funds announced today are being provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of the national LINK scheme.

LINK projects promote academic/industrial collaboration in pre-competitive research and bring together companies and science-base partners.

This project will see Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) and the University of Aberdeen’s Institute for Biological and Environmental Sciences join forces with Ceres, the National Farmers Union, Blankney Estates as growers, Biocatalysts as enzyme providers for biomass conversion into biofuels and E.ON as an electricity generator from biomass combustion.

Richard Flavell, PhD, FRS, CBE, the Chief Scientific Officer of Ceres, the major industrial partner, underscored the value of public-private collaboration in bringing needed improvements to the market.
 
He said: “New, seeded, high yielding Miscanthus varieties are required to reach the production goals envisioned by the biomass industries in the UK and the rest of the world, and I’m confident that the greater coordination among the leading public and private programmes in both breeding and the underpinning science will facilitate the development of improved varieties far beyond current performance. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts.”

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Contacts

Dr John Clifton-Brown
Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences
01970 833191
John.Clifton-Brown@aber.ac.uk