Energy Crop Breeding & Modelling

What we do

Bioenergy will make a significant contribution to future energy security and the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change via sustainable substitution of fossil fuels. Our main bioenergy development work is with the species Miscanthus, a "C4 Asian grass which combines high yield potential with low inputs" (Lewandowski and Schmidt, 2006; Heaton et al., 2008; Hastings et al., 2009).

Our breeding programme is one of several Miscanthus breeding programmes outside Asia working on the matching of hybrids and genotypes to a wide range of growing conditions principally in Europe and the US. The aim is to increase the net energy yield per hectare, on land which is not used for food crops. This requires whole chain bioenergy analyses. Mathematical models are used by the group to summarise current understanding of the interactions between the environment and genotype (or novel variety) to project yields both spatially and temporarily. Sensitivity analyses are used to help select key traits limiting production potential. These feed into selection of parents for breeding novel hybrid varieties suitable for growing in a wide range of climates and different end uses.

Genetic resources are the basis of any breeding programme. Since 2004 we have built up one of the largest Miscanthus germplasm collections outside Asia with partners in Asia. We are part of a long successful tradition of breeding grasses at Aberystwyth which began with George Stapledon in the 1930’s (Link Lolium, Oats programmes and Stapledon Soc). Our breeding programme is closely connected to the Energy Crop Biology and Bioconversion and Biorefining research groups, who scientifically characterise parents and progeny for advantageous traits. We also work with many external partners in multiple locations in Europe and the US to both breed and test hybrids.

Research

Highly adapted Miscanthus hybrids can make a significant global contribution to the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change via sustainable substitution of fossil fuels within the next decade. The group aims to harness the biological potential of Miscanthus resulting from a plethora of naturally occurring variations in traits relevant to yield through modern and traditional breeding approaches. Mathematical models are used by the group to summarise current understanding of the interactions between the environment and genotype (or novel variety). These are used to help select traits and facilitate crossing for breeding novel hybrid varieties suitable for growing in a wide range of climates and different end uses.

Our Research is focused on the following areas:

Further Information

References

Lewandowski I, Schmidt U. 2006. Nitrogen, energy and land use efficiencies of miscanthus, reed canary grass and triticale as determined by the boundary line approach. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 112, 335-346.
Heaton EA, Dohleman FG, Long SP. 2008. Meeting US biofuel goals with less land: the potential of Miscanthus. Global Change Biology 14, 2000-2014.
Hastings A, Clifton-Brown J, Wattenbach M, Mitchell CP, Stampfl P, Smith P. 2009. Future energy potential of Miscanthus in Europe. Global Change Biology Bioenergy 1, 180-196.