A project to facilitate more planting of the bioenergy crop, miscanthus, has been awarded over £150,000 of funding. The money has been made available through the UK government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme to help contribute to 2050 net-zero targets.

The trials will be run by miscanthus specialist, Terravesta, with the aim to eventually incorporate automated technology and drone-linked machine learning to gain insights into crop performance.

Miscanthus trials

The project has been dubbed 'OMENZ', short for ‘Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanisation and data capture to meet Net-Zero targets’. Success in Phase 1 will enable the project to be upscaled in Phase 2, which is planned to begin in spring 2022. It's a step towards the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget recommendation plant at least 30,000ha/year by 2035, so that 700,000ha is planted by 2050. Terravesta’s science and technology director Michael Squance explained: “The OMENZ project will pave the way for more perennial bioenergy crops to be planted, by developing the technologies and infrastructure needed. “Currently there are around 7,000ha of Miscanthus in the UK, and even less short-rotation willow coppice and short rotation forestry.
"We need to ensure more biomass feedstocks are available to meet the growing demand for decarbonisation of agriculture and for the rapidly emerging bio-economy.
“Ultimately, there has to be market-ready technology to scale it up successfully and this is what this project will help to enable.”

Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme

£4 million has now been set aside for the UK Government's Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme. The project, which was launches this year, aims to enable organisations, including start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises, to develop strong project proposals that will deliver commercially viable innovations in biomass production. Jason Kam, Terravesta’s head of research and development, said: “The OMENZ project will take six months to complete, and will analyse field preparation, machinery, technology and planting techniques to identify areas that can deliver gains, efficiency and cost reduction.
“If successful in Phase 2 of the BEIS funded programme, Terravesta’s project then aims to trial a range of new technologies, including automated systems and drone-linked machine learning, using an integrated data capture and analysis platform to gain insights into crop performance.”
The BEIS programme is separated into two lots. Lot 1 covers innovation projects and Lot 2, multi-site demonstrator platforms. The multi-site demonstrator will be used to test and demonstrate a number of innovations from Lot 1 across the UK.