Bioenergy value chains: Whole systems analysis and optimisation

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Department of Chemical Engineering


Most energy system studies of the UK indicate a strong role for bioenergy in the coming decades, especially if the UK is to meet its climate change mitigation ambitions. However, there is a need to understand how bioenergy systems can be implement without negative sustainability-related implacts.

There is therefore a need for multi-scale systems analyses to support the understanding of these inter-related issues and to support decision-making around land use, interactions with food production and acceleration of bioenergy technologies, while ensuring that a range of sustainability measures are quantified and that minimum standards can be guaranteed.

This project will build on bioenergy system models (Imperial College, RRes, Soton) partners) and combine it with other models, including the UK-TIMES model (UCL), ecosystem and resource models (Soton, Manchester) and international trade models (UCL). This toolkit will be used to identify robust and promising options for the UK, including land use, resources and technologies.
This overall modelling framework would be able to determine which value chains can best contribute to a technologically efficient, low cost and low carbon UK energy system. Configuring the model to avoid the use of side constraints to limit the amount of land available for bioenergy and bio-based materials/chemicals will lead to a better understanding of how biomass production can be intercalated into existing UK energy and agricultural infrastructures.

This framework will be used to explore the bioenergy value chains and technology developments most relevant to the UK under different scenarios (e.g. high/low food security, high/low biomass imports etc.). The coupling to wider UK energy models as well as global resource models/data will ensure coherence in the overall systems and scenarios developed and to ensure clarity in the role of bioenergy in the wider UK energy system. Resource and technology models and information on future improvements as well as requirements for adoption and diffusion will be incorporated into the model. Sample value chains developed will also be assessed for their wider ecosystem impacts within the UK, particularly in terms of the change in expected key ecosystem services overall arising from changes in land use against a reference scenario. The implications of technological improvements in system critical technologies such as 2G biofuels, bio-SNG gas and the provision of renewable heat will also be considered.

The linking of value chain and system models will help to examine the opportunities and indirect impacts of increased biomass use for energy and chemicals and critically evaluate mitigation strategies for GHG emissions and resource depletion, and will feed into a wider policy analysis activity that will examine the dynamics of changing system infrastructure at intermediate time periods between now and 2050.

The key outcomes will include:
- Understanding the potential and risks of different biomass technologies, and the interfaces between competing requirements for land use
- Understanding cost reductions, lifecycle environmental profiles and system implications of bioenergy and biorenewables
- Identifying and modelling the impact of greater system integration -integrated energy, food, by-product systems, and cascading use of biomass
- Understanding what it would take to achieve a significant (e.g. 10%) contribution from biomass in the UK - and identify the pre-requisites/critical path for mobilisation (resources, policies, institutions and timescales).
- Developing scenarios describing what policies, infrastructure, institutions etc. would be needed and where
- Lifecycle, techno- and socio-economic and environmental/ecosystem, evaluation of the value chains associated with a material level of bioenergy in the UK

Planned Impact

We anticipate a broad range of important impacts, including:

- assessments of the potential roles of bioenergy as part of a wider low carbon energy system
- identifying system-wide impacts of bionergy value chains, in terms of socio-economics, environmental impacts and changes to ecosystem services
- identification of promising bioenergy system concepts (comprising resources, technologies, infrastructure and end use vectors) for the UK
- understanding how bioenergy can co-evolve with increasing demands on land for other uses (e.g. food and other ecosystem services)
- understanding how differnet policies can support or hinder the roll-out of promising bioenergy systems

These impacts will apply to a range of beneficiaries, including:

UK industrial and wider technology stakeholders, such as fuel companies, engineering companies and and original equipment manufacturers, utilities and so on. They will be interested in understanding the deployment potential of technologies, the resources to be processed by such technologies and the potential benefits that such technologies can bring when the whole system is considered.

Growers and advisory groups related to land use and resources. We shall identify promising land use patterns and landscape management strategies that maximise the benefits of a large scale implementation of bioenergy. These stakeholders are critical in terms of ensuring the supply of sustainable, long-term supply of feedstock upon which any bioenergy system is critically dependent.

UK policy makers (including DECC, CCC, OFGEM, Carbon Trust...). Our research will indicate effective ways to establish bioenergy systems in low carbon, secure and affordable energy systems. Our research will both indentify promising bioenergy systems and establish effective ways of implementing transitions from today's system to a materially-signficant one.

UK consumers. They are becoming more engaged in the operation of the energy system and already interact with mechanisms such as feed in tariffs and the renewable heat initiative. Consumers are aware of the general concerns around sustainability of biomass and we feel a strong obligation to communicate our findings in a clear and transparent fasion. We shall work with the knowledge transfer fellow at the Supergen Bioenergy Hub to effect this.

To ensure that our impacts are achieved, we shall dedicate a significant proportion of our budget to activities such as:

- Formal workshops (at least 2), focussing on refining the research challenges and case studies, communicating the data, assumptions and methodologies and disseminating and receiving feedback on findings; these will be linked to and disseminated through the Supergen Bioeenrgy Hub.
- Support for informal meetings and workshops for subgroups of investigators, researchers and stakeholders focussed on particular topics
- An Advisory Board of partners and wider stakeholders which will help to steer, refine and critique the research and disseminate the findings.
- The production of materials that summarise the diverse scientific and policy findings in a form suitable for very wide dissemination


10 25 50

Description We have demonstrated that it is possible in a single model to include food production, bioeenergy production and ecosystem services.
Exploitation Route By government and related agencies considering both food security and bioenergy production.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Environment

Description They have been used to support provision of advice and evidence to DECC/BEIS and the Energy Technologies Institute on the topic of bioenergy
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description Appointed to Advisory Group, Committee on Climate Change, Bioenergy Review
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Description Greenhouse Gas Removal Programme
Amount £1,649,988 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P019900/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 06/2020
Description Sub-contractor to Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London in the EIT-funded project ADMIT-Bio-Succinnovate under the Climate-KIC programme 
Organisation Imperial College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We supported the spatially specific estimates of biomass in different UK regions available for the bio-economy, here the resource for bio-renewable succinic acid. We trained and co-supervised the PhD student Yuanzhi Ni at Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, to calibrate, validate and upscale an existing process-based crop growth model. We agreed to carry out the following services for Imperial: 2.1. (a) those as set out in Schedule 1 annexed hereto which includes the provision of an interim report including yield, spatial carbon stocks maps and Land based GHG emission factors for feedstock supply locations (England, Wales, Hungary and France) to be delivered by end of November 2016. A conference paper and a peer-reviewed paper are published/under review, respectively.
Collaborator Contribution Partner at Imperial College (Dr Jeremy Woods, Centre for Environmental Policy) were leader of Work Package 8 in the Bio-Succinnovate project. We were initially a partner in our own right but changed to being a subcontractor (16122 -Consultancy agreement Rothamsted Biosuccinnovate). Imperial College administered and paid a reasonable fee (€15k).
Impact Conference paper at the International Bioenergy Conference and Exhibition, Shanghai: Assessing Availability and Environmental Impacts of Lignocellulosic BIOMASS Feedstock Supply - Case Study for a Catchment in England (9 pages) Ni, YZ, Mwabonje, O., Richter, G., Qi, A., Yeung, K, Patel, M. Woods, J. (2018) ASSESSING AVAILABILITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF LIGNOCELLULOSIC BIOMASS FEEDSTOCK SUPPLY - CASE STUDY FOR A CATCHMENT IN ENGLAND Biofpr (Accepted for publication; revisions to be submitted by 8 April 2018)
Start Year 2015
Description Work with DECC to improve the representation of bioenergy technologies in the UK TIMES energy system model 
Organisation Department of Energy and Climate Change
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We worked together to pool information about bioenergy technologies from different sources and to update the UK TIMES model accordingly.
Collaborator Contribution We worked together to pool information about bioenergy technologies from different sources and to update the UK TIMES model accordingly.
Impact None.
Start Year 2015
Description energy technologies institute - bvcm collaboration 
Organisation Energy Technologies Institute (ETI)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Supporting the work in bioenergy value chain modelling
Collaborator Contribution Providing advice and data on bioenergy modelling. Providing a software licence to the BVCM tool.
Impact Ideas for case studies.
Start Year 2014
Title Bioenergy value chain modelling framework 
Description An optimisation tool that can model bioenergy value chains together with food production and ecosystem service proivision 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact It has started to enable modelling of UK bioenergy chains with integrated food production. 
Description Global Challenges Research Fund Workshop 
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 Water remediation in SE Asia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Providing evidence to Committee on Climate Change for the 2018 Bioenergy Review 
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 R Holland (SOTON) discussed ongoing work with Jenny Hill from the Committee on Climate Change and the possibility of contributing to their bioenergy and land use reviews due to be published end of 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
Description Visit to Drax and interaction with power generation industry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact R Holland (SOTON) visited Drax powerstation together with Casper Donnison (Soton ADVENT PhD) and Astley Hastings (Aberdeen) and met sustainability team. Discussed ongoing work within UKERC relating to international implications of UK energy. Subsequent follow up meetings to discuss areas for joint research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017