Healthy Business

Miscanthus (Clifton-Brown)

Green fuels for the future

Developing Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop

Bioenergy crops are plants that are grown and then burnt to generate electricity and heat. When used in place of fossil fuels, they can contribute to reducing our CO2 emissions and meeting our climate change targets. The UK has an ambitious target of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 and without bioenergy, it is estimated the costs of achieving this would be up to £78 billion higher per year.

Over 75% of the biomass we use in the UK is imported. UK-grown bioenergy crops would shorten supply chains, assist with balance of trade payments for energy and help the rural economy. The research team at IBERS led by John Clifton-Brown is working with industrial partner Terravesta Assured Energy Crops to develop optimised and profitable home-grown bioenergy crops.

Miscanthus is a perennial grass that grows several metres high each year, and this biomass can be harvested and burnt for bioenergy. It is a prime target for domestication as a bioenergy crop for the UK and EU, because it can grow in challenging lower grade land, is very efficient at using nutrients and certain hybrids can tolerate drought exceptionally well. IBERS scientists have collected a range of Miscanthus types from a wide range of environments in Eastern Asia, and are using them to breed new hybrids, with the aim of producing varieties of Miscanthus that are high yielding in diverse European conditions.

The current method for planting Miscanthus is from sections of root called rhizomes dug up from other Miscanthus plants, but this limits how much can be planted annually. Planting Miscanthus using seed allows the crop areas to be upscaled 200 times faster, and thereby making a significant contribution to reducing dependence on biomass fuel imports.

The team is also working on a variety of planting techniques to improve early establishment.  Recent trials planted from plug planted seed are establishing more quickly, allowing farmers to harvest commercial yields after 2-3 years, compared to 3-4 years in the rhizome planted crop.

 “The overall goal is to develop new systems for miscanthus-based agriculture that increase profitability and so enable transition of today’s niche crop into a large scale biomass supply system.” – John Clifton-Brown 

We are:

  • Developing planting and agronomy systems for Miscanthus seeds
  • Working on harvesting and processing technologies in order to maximise quantity and quality of the harvested material
  • Breeding new Miscanthus hybrids that are optimised for UK and European climate and soil types
  • Demonstrating best practice in international negotiations regarding the licensing of genetic resources and benefit sharing with originating countries.

 

For more information, contact Prof John Clifton-Brown, jhc@aber.ac.uk

Yeast for better beer (Davey)

Improving yeast monitoring for better beer

Refreshing research from IBERS

Over 20 million pints of beer are consumed every day in the UK and many of these are produced with the assistance of research by scientists at IBERS.

Working in close collaboration with Aber Instruments, an Aberystwyth University spin-out company, IBERS researchers contribute to improving the yeast monitoring process and development of commercial brewing products such as Aber Instruments' Yeast Monitor. 

Using the approach developed in collaboration with the IBERS research team, improved monitoring of brew completion allows the beer to be processed more quickly, which benefits the brewer in terms of reduced costs and leads to a more consistent product quality. In turn, the customer enjoys a better pint.

In brewing, the quality of the raw materials directly impacts the quality of the finished product. The most difficult aspect to control is the yeast – as a biological agent both the viability and vitality of the organism must be monitored to maximise efficiency and product quality. As yeast is recycled from one brew to the next, its quality can vary considerably.

Aber Instruments has supplied over 1000 fermentation monitoring systems worldwide for the on-line measurement of viable biomass concentration, providing improvements in speed and accuracy over previous procedures. Now established as the standard for on-line yeast concentration measurement Aber Instrument’s Yeast Monitor is used in large breweries including AB Inbev, SAB Miller, Coors, Diageo, Heineken, Suntory, Kirin, Asia-Pacific and San Miguel. The Futura instrument also utilises technology from IBERS research and is used by major biotechnology companies including Genetech, Novo, Biogen Idec, GlaxoSmithKline, Centocor, Sandoz, Eli Lilly and Genzyme to monitor biomass in a much wider range of fermentations.

"[Working with the IBERS research team] helps Aber Instruments to maintain its presence in the marketplace and to promote its products…. [IBERS] expertise on cell vitality and the instruments that measure it is extremely useful to Aber Instruments for exploring new market potential." Engineering Director, Aber Instruments 

We are:

  • Improving monitoring of the viability and vitality of yeast to maximise the efficiency and quality of brewing
  • Changing methods used by practitioners in breweries and biotechnology companies worldwide
  • Enhancing our understanding of cellular processes and passing on that knowledge to the marketplace
  • Providing postgraduate students within commercial biotechnology experience to complement their academic training

For more information, contact Dr Hazel Davey, hlr@aber.ac.uk

 

Daffodils (Fraser)

Yellow Gold: sustainable daffodil-derived galanthamine production in the uplands

IBERS research utilises the UK uplands environment to develop a more competitive source of a high value drug 

Work at IBERS led by Dr Mariecia Fraser is helping develop more cost-effective, plant-based sources for a drug for Alzheimer’s disease.

The number of people suffering from dementia is large and growing at a considerable rate. In 2010, there were over 35.6 million dementia sufferers worldwide and 4.6 million cases are diagnosed each year. Galantamine is a pharmaceutical compound that has been an approved Alzheimer’s Disease treatment since 1998. Galantamine can be synthesised chemically but it is a difficult and expensive process. Producing the drug from plant extracts is more cost effective, but global supplies are limited.

Daffodils are the only economically feasible plant source for cultivation in the UK. Early research suggested that the environmental challenges in upland areas may trigger a higher yield of galanthamine in daffodils that are grown there compared to in lowland conditions.

Sales of galantamine are currently in excess of $500 million per year, with the clinical need growing at 14% per year in the UK alone. The annual global consumption of galantamine is currently constrained by existing production levels, but published figures predict the potential global market could be near 40 tonnes per year. The price for the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient for galantamine drugs is projected to remain between £15,000 - £18,000/kg in the medium term. 

Daffodils grown for galanthamine production therefore offer a novel, potentially high value crop for UK upland farmers that could provide an important new income stream, increasing their economic resilience. In Innovate UK-funded work, the IBERS research team is collaborating with industry to develop ways of growing daffodil crops that are environmentally sustainable and economically competitive, based on expertise in uplands agriculture.

We are:

  • Finding more cost-effective ways to produce important pharmaceutical compounds
  • Utilising UK uplands resources for economic and environmental benefits
  • Translating an understanding of uplands agriculture into business competitiveness

For more information, contact Dr Mariecia Fraser, mdf@aber.ac.uk