15AGRITECHCAT4: MUST: Miscanthus Upscaling Technology

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: IBERS

Abstract

Approximately 8000 ha of Miscanthus are currently grown in the UK. It is a C4 perennial crop biomass crop, and is harvested in spring and used for bioenergy and bioproducts. The commercial crop is rhizome planted and this limits
planting rates and hence market growth; the annual multiplication factor for seed is more than 200 times that from rhizomes. We will develop the technologies associated with delivering a seed based Miscanthus crop which can rapidly
upscale the crop. Firstly, we will establish the environmental conditions for seed production in the glasshouse in the UK, and in southern Europe for 10 novel cross combinations identified in the a former project, known as GIANT LINK, that are
potential varieties. Secondly, we will take three novel seed based Miscanthus hybrids and plant them at four trial sites in the UK. The planting of trials at two continental sites (Southern Germany and Central Poland) with more extreme climates will help us to understand the resilience of the hybrids we are testing to summer droughts and cold winters which occur only occasionally in the UK. We will explore the scope for improving establishment by optimising agronomy at planting time (e.g. use of mulch films and/or plug based planting) such that we achieve a commercially harvestable crop in year 2 (compared to years 3/4 in our rhizome planted crop). We will also seek to maximise the quality and quantity of crop at harvest by trialing alternative approaches to cutting time, cutting height, chipping, swathing and baling. MUST aims to take proof-of-concept work across the Miscanthus development chain and extend it to field scale.

Technical Summary

UK demand for biomass for electricity generation exceeds 5 million tonnes/year, >75% of which is imported. UK grown biomass would shorten supply chains, assist with balance of trade payments for energy and help the rural economy. Miscanthus is a perrenial biomass crop that is burnt for bioenergy. The commercial crop is rhizome planted which limits planting rates and market expansion. Seed based hybrids are now being developed. We will develop methods to upscale seed production and then plant them at 4 trial sites across the UK and 2 in Continental Europe. We aim to optimise agronomy to achieve a commercially harvestable crop in year 2 (compared to years 3/4 in our rhizome planted crop). We will trial several harvest approaches to maximise crop quality and quantity. The overall goal is to develop new systems for Miscanthus based agriculture that increase profitability and so enable transition of today's niche crop into a large scale biomass supply system.

Planned Impact

This project will undertake the underpinning industrial research that would be necessary to commercialise seed-based Miscanthus for the UK bioenergy market. Several sectors are predicted to benefit from this work.

Farmers: increased financial returns compared to OSR/wheat/barley rotations on marginal land. Improved farm diversity and resilience. These benefits are predicted to begin to be realised 2-4 years post project.

Energy supply industry: Increased availability of UK grown Miscanthus will help power supply companies meet their objectives for biomass cofiring, with a lower dependence on imported biomass, and therefore improved price security. The
outcomes of this project have the potential to be deployed across Europe, and so have a wider benefit in relation to low carbon energy supply. These benefits will start to accrue in-project, and will increase in proportion to the planted area in the years post-completion.

Policy makers: The UK government has challenging GHG emissions targets, together with a strategy for UK grown biomass. Miscanthus could make a significantly larger contribution to these targets if seed-based hybrids became
available. We estimate 22TWh (5 million tonnes) annually by 2030.

Industrial biotechnology companies: Miscanthus is a promising plant for biorefining. Whilst the UK commercial focus at present is on combustion, a range of platform chemicals and other products (e.g. chlorophyll) can be extracted from
Miscanthus. Biorefining requires a secure supply of feedstock, which this project has the scope to provide in the future.

Society: increased fuel security and more stable energy prices. Environmental benefits from use of a perennial crop (soil protection, decreased flood risk). Wider benefits of GHG emission reduction.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description Commercially scalable Miscanthus seed production technology was developed through glasshouse work in Aberystwyth and field experiments in Catania, Italy.
In November 2016 >2M seeds were produced of two key hybrids. MUST agronomic field trials showed that seed-to-plug-plant-to-field establishment was enhanced with the used of mulch films.
Terravesta Ltd, who led the MUST project signed a licence agreement to commercially exploit >10 hybrids with Aberystwyth Uni (and Land O'Lakes Inc who bought out CERES Inc, a US energy Crop company that supported breeding between 2007-2012) allowing commercial exploitation of the GIANT LINK (2012-2016) and MUST (2016-2019) projects.
In November 2019, a total of seven Miscanthus hybrids were selected by Terravesta Ltd. as worthy of variety protection and were submitted for registration with the European Central Plant Varieties Office (CPVO).
In March 2020 6 hybrids were submitted to CPVO (Bundesortenamt BSA, Hanover) and grown under standard conditions for phenotypic evaluation. October 2021 evaluations were made for distinctness, uniformity and stability. Three clones met DUS standards and remain in evaluation for a second year, but the seeded hybrids did not conform with DUS standards used by BSA. Clonal selections from the seeded hybrids have now been re-entered for March 2021.
Exploitation Route A project entitled 'Miscanthus for Contaminated and Marginal Lands' (MISCOMAR (EU FACCE.jpi, 2016-2019) was used to evaluate selected Miscanthus hybrids across a range of marginal land sites in UK, Germany and Poland. A report for DEFRA (40 pages) written in autumn 2019 is in now review. Field trials in this downstream evaluation project has shown that Miscanthus copes well with heavy metal contaminated lands in Poland and low nutrient lands in the UK. Trials in Germany, where climatic conditions are particularly favourable for Miscanthus growth, showed that certain hybrids were well suited for both green and brown biomass harvests in autumn and spring. There was large variation in the above and below ground biomass partitioning in different hybrids. This will be important in assessments of Greenhouse Gas Reduction (GGR) potentials of Miscanthus grown on lower grade agricultural lands in Europe. A follow on project MISCOMAR+ has been awarded to work on the establishment agronomy on seed based plug plants on marginal land, and to continue the long term monitoring of the performance of the original MISCOMAR plot trials.

MUST provided the hybrid seed for sowing the plugs for the EU BBI GRACE project in 2018. These are very extensive field tests across six locations in Europe at Plot Scale, Field Scale and Commercial Scale. Each partner in GRACE is connected to biomass value chains. The technical and economic potential of each biomass value chain is being evaluated by 10 companies. GRACE is a strategic project, designed to connect end to end... from technology push to market pull. In 2020 the GRACE trials reach three years old, when mature yield phase for Miscanthus begins.

With the help of the EU's Common Dissemination Booster, we produced a policy brief entitled 'Agricultural greenhouse gas reduction with perennial biomass crops grown on marginal land'. The content has been discussed with the editor of the journal Global Change Biology - Bioenergy, as a route to publication in the peer reviewed literature.

In June 2019 A BBSRC Highlights document entitled ' Miscanthus highlights and farming (not mining) carbon' was led by Judith Thornton at IBERS. This was picked up in Feb 2020 by the BBSRC, and UKRI Content manager Frank Grimshaw is planning to make a short documentary film on the work.
Corona restrictions delayed the filming, but went ahead in Oct 2021.
This work also contributed to a short listing for the 'Greengown' awards.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy

URL https://www.terravesta.com/
 
Description A project entitled 'Miscanthus for Contaminated and Marginal Lands' (MISCOMAR (EU FACCE.jpi, 2016-2019) was used to evaluate selected Miscanthus hybrids across a range of marginal land sites in UK, Germany and Poland. MUST provided the hybrid seed for sowing the plugs for the EU BBI GRACE project in 2018. These are very extensive field tests across six locations in Europe at Plot Scale, Field Scale and Commercial Scale. With the help of the EU's Common Dissemination Booster, we produced a policy brief entitled 'Agricultural greenhouse gas reduction with perennial biomass crops grown on marginal land'. In June 2019 A BBSRC Highlights document entitled ' Miscanthus highlights and farming (not mining) carbon' was submitted. In 2020 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The BBSRC highlights. https://www.greengownawards.org/xx12020-xx2finalist
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Greenhouse gas removal: September 2018
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact through addressing the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gases that are driving climate change
URL http://royalsociety.org/greenhouse-gas-removal
 
Description Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK: 23 Jan 2020
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact More biomass production would contribute to low carbon economy and reductions in erosion and nutrient losses.
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/
 
Description EU BBI-GRACE GRowing Advanced industrial Crops on marginal lands for biorEfineries
Amount € 12,324,632 (EUR)
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 06/2017 
End 06/2022
 
Description MISCOMAR+ Miscanthus for Contaminated and Marginal Lands.
Amount £1,400,000 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2020 
End 05/2024
 
Title Field Growth analysis protocols 
Description An improved set of standardized set of protocols was developed for measuring growth traits in Miscanthus which could be used for improving yield models. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The protocols are being used to compare growth in plot trials in multi-location trialling in breeding and EU projects. 
 
Title Photoperiod and temperature controlled glasshouses equipped for induction of flowering used in breeding 
Description The MUST project continues the development of our Photoperiod and temperature controlled glasshouses equipped for induction of flowering used in breeding, transitioning from SON-T lamps to LED lighting systems. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Reduction in the costs of Miscanthus breeding and seed production in the UK 
 
Title MiscanFor: A crop production model where Astley Hastings is the lead developer. 
Description MiscanFor (2009 to current day) is a crop model for projecting Miscanthus yield temporally and spatially using GXE data. MiscanFor has its roots in MISCAMOD (2004). 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2009 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact It's an ongoing development led by my colleague Astley Hastings in Aberdeen 
 
Title Physis 
Description The Physis database has its roots in the IBERS database MSCAN. Physis is being developed by Michael Squance, a former IBERS PhD Student. Physis is designed to collect and collate standardized multi-location field trial data: plant performance (traits and yield), and environment (climate and soils). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The Physis system which began in Jan 2018, now includes mobile app and blue tooth technologies for efficient infield data collection. This is a game changer for a breeding research programme which requires long term, standardised data to improve models to project the regional production potential of seed based hybrids. 
URL http://physisdata.com/
 
Description CAT - Seed production 
Organisation University of Catania
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are working together with UNICT and Terravesta Ltd. in MUST to develop seed production techniques.
Collaborator Contribution While the MUST project an annual contribution of 10k euro to the direct costs at UNICT, annual support for field programme is more like 20k euro, which is an in kind benefit for the MUST project.
Impact See publications: Co-authors Cosentino, D, Scordia, G and Scalici, G.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Development of improved Breeding technology 
Organisation PBS International Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Experiments have been designed for testing crossing bags made from different materials.
Collaborator Contribution Access to their contacts on production of non woven fabrics
Impact The knowledge developed for the crossing bags is being scaled by PBS into crossing tents. We are not 'funded' partners in the ongoing work, but have been part of the process developing the 'stakeholder' requirements.
Start Year 2016
 
Description IGPPP Moldova- GXE trialling 
Organisation Institute of Genetics, Physiology and Plant Protection
Country Moldova, Republic of 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We hosted and trained a scientist from IGPPP in UK (Lincoln and Aberystwyth) in Jan - Feb 2018/9.
Collaborator Contribution IGPPP are hosting 2 hectares of some of the most advanced Miscanthus seed based hybrids, including those recently added to those registered with the European Central Plant Variety Office.
Impact A. Sandu and V. Botnari are co-authors of 2 listed publications.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Terravesta 
Organisation Terravesta Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Breeding and agronomy of Miscanthus hybrids to provide biomass for bioenergy and the bioecononmy
Collaborator Contribution Together we participate in private, nationally funded and EU funded projects and new proposals. Key funding opportunities include Innovate UK, BEIS, DEFRA and EPSRC
Impact Licences to hybrids bred collaboratively
Start Year 2012
 
Title Licencing of 10 hybrids for commercial upscaling to Terravesta Ltd. 
Description Selected novel hybrids bred during GIANT LINK (known as the GNT hybrids) were scaled up in MUST. Ten have been licenced to Terravesta. 
IP Reference  
Protection Trade Mark
Year Protection Granted 2019
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact This allows Terravesta to attract investment
 
Title Registration of 7 new Miscanthus hybrids 
Description Novel seed Miscanthus varieties for upscaling planted areas 
IP Reference  
Protection Trade Mark
Year Protection Granted 2020
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact 7 new Miscanthus hybrids have been entered with the European Central Plant Varieties Office (CPVO)
 
Description Aberbeen departmental seminar: 8-9 May 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Discussion with students and staff on the opportunity for biomass to contribute to Net zero
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description BEIS team visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact To discuss progress on upscaling biomass and carbon mitigation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description CEREALS 2019: 12-13 June 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Our IBERS MUST team joined Terravesta Ltd. on the stand for both days. An important outcome was the engagement of stakeholders in different parts of the biomass value chain.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.cerealsevent.co.uk/
 
Description MISCOMAR conference Katowice, Poland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The event included scientific presentations, presentations from industrial partners and a debate on next steps and policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.miscomar.eu/
 
Description MUST Project Stakeholder Field Safari: 28 August 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A field display the the crops and the machinery developed during the MUST project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Miscanthus for Wales 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact To demonstrate breeding progress, and the opportunity for farmers to grow Miscanthus on marginal uplands to a range of uses. The use and performance as animal bedding was 'show cased' by one of Wales' largest livestock farmers who has been using chipped Miscanthus from our research field trials since 2013.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.miscanthusbreeding.org/
 
Description NFU Cymru Presidents Visit to IBERS 12.2.2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact NFU Cymru Presidents Visit to IBERS 12.2.2020
The Boardroom Stapledon Building Gogerddan campus
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Royal Welsh Show: 22 July 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Royal Welsh is a very large event with a strong outreach to the public as well as those involved in the sector. Discussions between stands were ongoing, and have led to important Welsh policy links.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://rwas.wales/royal-welsh/
 
Description Visit from Local MP 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact To inform our local MP of agricultural research aimed at climate change mitigation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018