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Net Zero Willow project offers significant step forward in SRC planting and harvesting

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A new project, to help scale up the UK biomass supply chain and achieve the country’s Net Zero ambitions has been awarded £3.99 million of government funding via the recently announced phase 2 of BEIS’ Biomass Feedstocks Innovation (BFI) Programme.

The Net Zero Willow (NZW) project aims to construct, test and develop to full commercial deployment three innovations that will facilitate the efficient multiplication, planting and harvesting of Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) willow crops. Benefits of the proposed machines include increased automation, reduced handling and lighter machinery that result in a lower environmental footprint.

Net Zero Willow bot with Rod Planting Attachment
A CGI image of the ‘Willow Bot’ with Rod Planting Attachment

Currently there are roughly 3,000 hectares of SRC Willow planted in the UK. In addition to being used as a renewable fuel in biomass boilers and/or power stations, SRC crops can be used in a number of other emerging markets including bio-composites, biochar, fodder for animals and pharmaceuticals, providing a number of potential business opportunities for growers.

Led by Jamie Rickerby of Willow Energy, who have been involved in this market for the past 10 years, the Net Zero Willow project is looking to make this crop option more favorable to farmers by reducing costs, increasing revenue, improving yields and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It features a number of partners – consultancies Crops for Energy and Materia Nova, plus several engineering companies including Systems Hydraulics, GC Engineering, CM Engineering (Scotland) Ltd and F-Angéloz SA.

Mr Rickerby said: 

“Our inspiration for Net Zero Willow is based on the Sky cycling team model of improving performance through marginal gains. We believe we have come up with designs that will transform the sector in a very short time period by making small to significant improvements at every step of the way – reducing costs, increasing revenue, improving yields and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Kevin Lindegaard of Crops for Energy said:

“These machines will provide the most significant steps forward in SRC planting and harvesting machinery for 30 years. This project ticks the boxes in many aspects – it will enable SRC to be expanded to parts of the country where there is a distinct need and onto terrain that other machinery simply can’t reach. The revenue benefits for growers together with the availability of reliable machinery will encourage more farmers to plant SRC willow, creating a snowball effect”.

“The UK claims to be leading the world on climate change innovation and these machines will deliver on this promise. The BFI programme will provide us with the opportunity to demonstrate this globally. There is nothing like this in our industry and we anticipate many willing investors and buyers all around the world”.

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