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Biomass project aims to to increase scale and quality of Miscanthus establishment in the UK

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A project aiming to facilitate more planting of the perennial bioenergy crop, Miscanthus, has been awarded over £3.3 million in funding through phase 2 of the Government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme.

The OMENZ project from Terravesta, which stands for ‘Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanisation and data capture to meet Net Zero targets’, aims to deliver improvements on the entire Miscanthus establishment process, including approaches to producing planting material, field preparation, innovative agri-tech, new planting techniques, and cutting-edge technologies to monitor establishment in the field.

The Sixth Carbon budget from the Climate Change Committee stated that the UK needs to plant 700,000 hectares of bioenergy crops if it is to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Given the scale of the challenge, innovations such as the OMENZ project are urgently required to boost production.

Terravesta’s science and technology director, Dr Michael Squance said:

“The first dedicated, peer reviewed study into Miscanthus life cycles shows that the above ground biomass grows annually and recycles all the carbon that’s been produced through planting, harvesting, and burning the crop for renewable electricity, and at the same time, the underground rhizome and decaying leaf litter fixes and stores net 0.64 tonnes of carbon (2.35 tonnes CO2e) per hectare, each year as it grows,”

“In Phase 1 of the project, we analysed field preparation, machinery, technology and planting techniques to identify areas which can deliver gains, efficiency and cost reduction. We started Phase 2 of the project in mid-2022 and will trial and develop innovative techniques to improve Miscanthus planting and establishment.”

The Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme was launched by BEIS in 2021,as part of its Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, to enable organisations, including start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises, to develop research projects that will deliver commercially viable innovations in biomass production. Phase 2 will run until March 2025 to demonstrate the innovative new methods tested.

Dr Jason Kam, Terravesta’s head of R&D, says that there are four areas of focus for OMENZ:

“The first is planting material production preparation, which will improve on the quality of the rhizomes when they come out of the nursery, look at Miscanthus seed development, and test biological treatments and crop nutrition to help the plants to grow better.

“The second focus area is site preparation, where we will look at retaining moisture, reducing tillage and improving soil health.”

“Streamlining planting processes is an exciting part of the project, where agri-tech will be used to plant more crops in a shorter space of time and lastly, establishment monitoring will test drone agronomy, remote sensing and data capture, to improve crop performance.”

Partners in the biomass project include CHAP, Cranfield University, Energene Seeds Ltd, Liverpool John Moores University, TJSS Ltd, University of Lincoln, Ystumtec Ltd. 

Long-term partner of Terravesta, Aberystwyth University, has also been successful in getting funding for its breeding programme.

To learn more about Miscanthus and Terravesta visit www.terravesta.com.

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