As part of the government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, £3.3 million in funding has been awarded to facilitate more planting of the perennial energy crop miscanthus.
Terravesta applied for the funding for its OMENZ project – ‘Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanisation and data capture to meet Net Zero targets’. This project will deliver improvements to the entire miscanthus establishment process, including planting material, field preparation, agri-tech and technology to monitor establishment.
Terravesta’s science and technology director, Dr Michael Squance, said that Miscanthus is important for net-zero targets. “The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget report states that to reach net zero, 700,000 hectares of bioenergy crops need to be planted by 2050 – that’s 30,000 hectares a year starting in 2030. 1
“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,” he said.
“The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is funding projects like ours through NZIP, the ‘Net Zero Innovation Portfolio’ and it’s our aim to increase the scale and quality of Miscanthus establishment in the UK.
“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,” Dr Squance added.
Dr Jason Kam, Terravesta’s head of R&D, says: “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,” said Dr Kam.
Terravesta was among 12 projects to be awarded funding in Phase 2 and partners in OMENZ include CHAP, Cranfield University, Energene Seeds Ltd, Liverpool John Moores University, TJSS Ltd, University of Lincoln, Ystumtec Ltd.
The long-term partner of Terravesta, Aberystwyth University, has also been successful in getting funding for its breeding programme.