Energy Crop Biology

Bioenergy is one of a mix of renewable energy technologies that is needed to replace fossil fuels and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause anthropogenic climate change. Biomass from energy crops is important because in addition to being able to provide electricity and heat through combustion, biomass can be used to make petroleum replacements such as liquid transport fuels and platform chemicals.

Most of our effort is centered on the giant energy grass Miscanthus, but we also have expertise in other energy crops including high sugar ryegrasses and short rotation coppice willow, as well as model systems such as maize and Brachypodium.

Miscanthus is a perennial grass and an ideal energy crop because it combines the fast growth rate of a tropical grass, such as sugarcane, with a tolerance to grow at UK temperatures. Miscanthus produces a high annual yield of biomass, yet has highly effective nutrient recycling at the end of the growing season, and so has minimal requirements in terms of fertiliser inputs.

Research within the Energy Crop Biology group focuses on understanding and manipulating the growth and development of Miscanthus, in terms of morphology, physiology and cellular processes, and on developing the underpinning tools required to associate genotype to phenotype. This work benefits from a diverse collection of Miscanthus germplasm, which is being extensively phenotyped for biomass yield and quality-associated traits, and feeds directly into the Miscanthus breeding programme.

Miscanthus Genomics

  • Genomic libraries
  • NGS data analysis & mining
  • Genetic markers and maps
  • Comparative genomics
  • Association of phenotypic traits to genes and markers (QTL, statistical genomics etc)

Plant developmental biology

  • Biomass yield traits (morphological & physiological)
  • High throughput phenotyping (large datasets, image analysis)
  • Crop modelling (yield, growth & development, carbon partitioning, nutrient/water uptake)
  • Genotype by environment interactions (Controlled environment & multi-site field phenotypic data)

Cell wall biology & Feedstock quality

  • Dynamic changes of grass cell wall architecture during growth and development

High throughput compositional screening of diverse (and novel) feedstock

  • Chemometrics
  • Matching feedstock quality to conversion technologies and products such as liquid fuels and platform chemicals

Plant-soil-microbe interactions

  • Metagenomics: species identification & functionality
  • Carbon, nutrient & water cycles
  • Biochemical pathways
  • Phytoremediation

 

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