Measurement and Analysis of bioenergy greenhouse gases: Integrating GHGs into LCAs and the UK Biomass Value Chain Modelling Environment (MAGLUE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

To meet the 2020 renewable energy target the UK is going to need biomass, and lots of it. DECC has an aspiration for an additional 20-38TWh of biomass electricity by 2020 and this will require around 12-23 million dry tonnes of biomass. This is a huge quantity of material, the vast majority of which would be imported as pellets from Canada and the USA and burnt in converted coal fired power plants. Other imported feedstocks for liquid fuels might include Brazilian ethanol from sugar cane and oils from palm oil in Southeast Asia. The UK is not alone in wanting to use more biomass. The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden all expect to use more, and estimates of future EU demand for wood pellets alone, for example, range from 23-80 million tonnes. One single coal power station in the UK is looking to source up to 10 million tonnes of biomass each year. If the UK wants biomass power on a large scale it is clear that the power generators will need to become major players in the transatlantic wood pellet trade.

Against this background of increased demand, there remains significant uncertainty on whether the use of biomass for energy is environmentally sustainable. Any type of managed land use can incur a carbon 'debt' - a net loss of carbon or other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that contributes to global warming. Other greenhouse gases include methane and the oxides of nitrogen. But quantifying the net impact of a bioenergy crop relative to what it might replace (sometimes called the counterfactual), is less than straightforward. This has led to many claims and counter-claims from commercial interests, environmental groups and academics, on the real greenhouse gas impact of land use change to bioenergy systems, where there still remains much disagreement and controversy.

The project described here is aimed at addressing this controversial issue - quantifying the real GHG balance of different land use transitions to bioenergy crops, for both UK and imported bioenergy feedstocks. We will deploy sophisticated state-of-the-art instrumentation that is able to measure GHGs very rapidly, to gain a better insight into the dynamic range of GHG emissions that can occur in such systems, including when fields are ploughed and planted and when fertilisers are added. Following data collection, we will extend our analysis by modelling a wide geographical range across the UK and for biomass feedstock sourced from other areas of the world. The models we use should work if we can utilise available datasets, globally, for weather, soils and yield data of the range of crops of interest.

The GHG data in such systems are usually used to develop emissions factors that are inputted into whole life cycle assessments (LCAs) of carbon (or C equivalent) costs, but these in the past have often been unverified data. We will assess the quality of past data and from our measurement and model campaigns we can test the effectiveness of emissions factors and how they might be improved from our work, including for overseas feedstocks. Finally, in an allied project we have developed a value chain model to optimise the technology options for the UK for bioenergy, depending on how cost, GHG balance and land availability are defined. We will run this model to identify the best bioenergy chains, in terms of GHG balance, for the UK and test scenarios ('what if' questions), to determine how much imported feedstock might be sustainable in the future.

Planned Impact

Within this SUPERGEN Challenge project, all Impact activities will be undertaken in consultation with the SUPERGEN Hub to ensure no duplication. Dr Whitaker alongside the PI and Patricia Thornley will manage this interaction.

In addition, The PI co-Chairs The University of Southampton Energy Research Group with funding available to support activities emerging from MAGLUE, for Impact.

Our actions will be focussed on:
1. Developing project literature (brochure) to describe the project in non-technical language for wide dissemination at Hub activities with the bioenergy industry, those engaged in policy and stakeholders as identified above. A brochure will be developed in month 1 of the project and again in month 36. The first to describe the project and the second, our major outcomes, identified below.

2. We will engage with stakeholders as described in WP5, within the first three months of the project through a workshop. Their opinions on bioenergy chains and GHG research gaps will be considered. Imperial College (Slade) have considerable experience of 'Technology and Policy Assessments' and have a well-developed format for this type of engagement that will be followed here. The aim of this workshop will be to ensure we are working on the most appropriate bioenergy chains, with consideration of likely future feedstock sources. A second workshop will be held towards the end of the project as a dissemination event to report our major findings.

3. Discussion Meeting. Our international collaborators have agreed to join in a discussion meeting on the topic of LCAs in sustainability frameworks for bioenergy, their underpinning development, the global relevance of our underpinning data and to share best practice for policy development. Initial thoughts are to hold this at a central location in London (2016) and to invite our stakeholder group to attend and contribute. The output will be a synthesis paper with both a technical (peer reviewed) detailed output and a synthesis of the meeting published as an opinion piece.

4. Framework Document The key outcomes from MAGLUE, identified below, will be synthesised into a Framework document and a policy-briefing report translating research outcomes for stakeholders. These will be disseminated at a stakeholder dissemination event in month 36, which will be designed in collaboration with the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.

5. Wider Impact and engagement Through interaction with the hub, the PI and others involved in MAGLUE will engage in all activities for Impact including presentations at non-science conferences and where the Hub is exhibiting, communicating the importance of our project work for policy and commercial interests concerned with bioenergy development and deployment in the UK

KEY OUTCOMES FROM MAGLUE

1. Greater accuracy in estimating GHG balances for UK and non-UK bioenergy feedstocks, accounting for temporal and spatial variability and
management impacts
2. Improved understanding of the impacts of overseas bioenergy feedstocks on bioenergy technology optimisation in the UK
3. Identification of 'preferred' bioenergy chains that best meet the sustainability principles identified in the UK's 2012 Bioenergy Strategy
4. A critical appraisal of the emission factors and methods used to calculate the GHG performance of bioenergy value chains.
5. A systematic framework though which improved and spatially explicit evidence on GHG emission factors can be incorporated into a policy
relevant tool

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The key findings from this award are continuing to emerge in the form of publications and analysis.
1. In studying five different global options for biomass supply to the UK including oil palm, north US forest resources, Eastern European short rotation forestry, we have identified the maturity of each of these bioenergy supply changed, determined the scope of supply and completed studies on the major sources of greenhouse gases in the supply chain. This research is being prepared for publication but has highlighted where sustainable global bioenergy resources are likely to emerge in the future. It is a collaboration between Southampton, CEH, Forest Research and Imperial College.
2. we have worked to improve the UK Biomass Value Chain Model (BVCM), alongside ETI and Imperial College such that it has a better representation of ecosystem services within the model, including GHG balance, that incorporates empirical rather data rather than emissions factors. This model has been interrogated to consider imported biomass in particular and the consequences of this supply chain for GHG balance. This work is a collaboration between Southampton and Imperial College.
3. The UK network of world-leading land use change sites to bioenergy has been completed with key finding on the impacts of land use conversion, now complemented with land reversion data of impacts on soil carbon and GHG emissions. These highly mechanistic data are unique and provide significantly novel data that will help to resolve issues with respect to land use decision making. This research was completed by CEH and Aberytwyth with input from Southampton.
4. The modelling tools for UK biomass supply and GHG impacts have been significantly improved with soil and productivity modelling extended in a global context. Biomass productivity and GHG emission can now be resolved globally and this is of significant interest for the deployment of BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon capture and Storage), to address negative emissions requirements. This has been largely undertaken by Aberdeen.
Exploitation Route 1. Modelling resources for UK policy makers have already been utilized.
2. GHG emissions data have been used by CCC for The Bioenergy Report, 2018.
3. Our data are of value to the emerging land use strategy for the UK.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Transport

 
Description The findings from this award were used in 2018 to provide underpinning data and evidence base for the development of The Bioenergy review of the Committee on Climate Change, that was published in 2018 "Biomass in a low carbon economy" https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/biomass-in-a-low-carbon-economy. Two of the PIs on the grant were members of the scientific Advisory board for the CCC publication - TAYLOR and DONNISON and a third PI - WHITTAKER led the workshop to provide underpinning insight into widescale barriers for uptake of bioenergy in the UK. She has also led on several other activities as part of her fellowship. Taken together, this project has engaged the leading team of experts in the UK for Bioenergy. They have contributed to the EPSRC SUPERGEN hub and two of the PIs (DONNISON and WHITTAKER) are now on the leadership team of the SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub. PI TAYLOR has been appointed to chair and Professorship at UC Davis, USA and is now developing a protfolio of research on biomass use in California, including work on GHG emissions that is the direct consequence of research within MAGLUE.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy
Impact Types 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
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/bioenergy-review-2018-call-evidence/
 
Description Gave Evidence to Committee on Climate Change Bioenergy Review
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/bioenergy-review-2018-call-evidence/
 
Description Interviewed for BEIS commissioned review on Innovation needs assessment for biomass heat.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Member of the Strategic Advisory Group on Bioenergy for Energy Technology Institute
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact The outputs of the Energy Technology Institute on Bioenergy deployment for the UK have been used in evidence to develop policy on bioenergy strategy going forward. Not least, this includes input into the UK energy System Modelling Environment ESME, following advice fro the Strategic Advisory Group. Several policy documents were published by ETI.
URL http://www.eti.co.uk/programmes/bioenergy
 
Description Membership of Expert Advisory Group on bioenergy for Committee of Climate Change
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Biomass-in-a-low-carbon-economy-CCC-2018.pdf
 
Description Participation in BEIS consultation on the Bioeconomy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Steps to scaling up UK sustainable bioenergy supply a workshop held by the Centre of Ecology & Hydrology in London on behalf of the Climate Change Committee to support their report on the role of Biomass in a low-carbon economy.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/steps-to-scaling-up-uk-sustainable-bioenergy-supply-ceh/
 
Description The MacKay Carbon Calculator, expert consultation to follow up on BEIS work with the Energy Systems Catapult and Cambridge Architectural Research to develop the new model and its lever plan
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Written evidence to Committee on Climate Change Biomass review 2018
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/biomass-in-a-low-carbon-economy/
 
Description Written evidence to Renewable Energy Association for Bioenergy Strategy 2019
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Bioenergy Value Chains: Whole System Analysis and Optimisation
Amount £1,560,068 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K036734/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2013 
End 08/2017
 
Description CARB The Best use of Biomass for California
Amount $25,000 (USD)
Organisation State of California 
Start 04/2019 
End 12/2019
 
Description EPSRC-RP Supergen Bioenergy Hub Phase II
Amount £5,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Manchester 
Department SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2018 
End 10/2022
 
Description Integration of biochar and diverse bioenergy crops into SE Asian agriculture
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Funding ID R121197/ Flexible Funding 2017 
Organisation University of Manchester 
Department SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 07/2018
 
Description MAGLUE - Measurement and Analysis of bioenergy greenhouse gases: integrating GHGs into LCAs and the UK bioenergy value chain modelling environment
Amount £1,100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/M013200/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
End 02/2018
 
Description Rural Development Plan; Plan Torri Tir Newydd
Amount £295,284 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Wales 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2017 
End 11/2019
 
Description Supergen Bioenergy Hub
Amount £4,999,507 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J017302/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2018 
End 10/2022
 
Description Joint meeting to discuss integration of global data 
Organisation University College London
Department UCL Energy Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A number of joint meeting held primarily between SOTON, UCL and Leeds Universities to discuss integration of global scale data and analysis within the UKERC Resource and Vectors theme. Have drawn up joint workplan and produced initial results.
Collaborator Contribution A number of joint meeting held primarily between SOTON, UCL and Leeds Universities to discuss integration of global scale data and analysis within the UKERC Resource and Vectors theme. Have drawn up joint workplan and produced initial results.
Impact R Holland presented "Integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services into future energy scenarios - lessons learned and next steps." At Bioenergy 2017 in Manchester on the 22nd March drawing on research across a number of RCUK projects including ADVENT http://www.supergen-bioenergy.net/conference/abstracts---day-1/
Start Year 2016
 
Description Bioenergy Presentation at the University of Brawijaya, Indoensia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A seminar series from CEH and an Indonesian Government Regional Planning Authority in Java. The purpose was to exchange knowledge and ideas around sustainable agriculture in SE Asia. The audience comprised University Staff, postgrad students and some members of government. An active collaboration is now on-going with the University of Brawijaya through NERC ODA Award NE/R000131/1. Part of the CEH lecture is now used by university lecturers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Brexit: an academic conference (London) 
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 This event was organised by parliament to bring together researchers and parliamentary staff to discuss some of the key policy areas which will be affected by Brexit and how evidence from research can contribute to decision making in this area. The event raised awareness among parliamentary staff of bioenergy and renewable energy more broadly. Following the event I was invited to contribute to a Postnote on Bioenergy which is planned for this year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://secondreading.uk/brexit/brexit-can-research-light-the-way/
 
Description European Biomass Conference and Exhibition - conference presentation J Whitaker 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Platform presentation on "Land-use effects on the greenhouse gas balance of perennial bioenergy crops" at the European Biomass Conference and Exhibition, Sweden May 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Initiated and convened stakeholder workshop for Committee on Climate Change "Steps to scaling up UK sustainable bioenergy supply" 
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 38 stakeholders from agriculture, environment and energy backgrounds and from industry, policy, academic and third sector attended. The workshop report was published as a technical annex to the Committee on Climate Change report Biomass in a Low Carbon Economy (November 2018). The published report has generated significant interest and is feeding into a newly commissioned BEIS feasibility study and the Renewable Energy Association Bioenergy strategy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited seminar on Bioenergy and Land-use change for Energy Lancaster Seminar series, Lancaster University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Delivered invited seminar on Bioenergy and Land-use Change to audience of academics and researchers. As a consequence I was invited to act as an external reviewer for the Royal Academy of Engineering report on Sustainability issues associated with liquid biofuels, commissioned by BEIS and DfT.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited speaker at Energy Technologies Institute Conference and Exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The ETI 10 years of innovation was a showcase for ETI funded research on energy held in central london. I was a keynote speaker in the Bioenergy seminar promoting ETI, NERC and EPSRC funded research on bioenergy sustainability. As as result of the presentation I was invited to be interviewed for the governments Committee on Climate Change Bioenergy Review. Useful connections were also made with policy leaders in ETI and industry connections with whom we are discussing potential collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meetings of RCUK Bioenergy Strategic Coordination Group (quarterly, on-going) 
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 Jeanette Whitaker has attended quarterly meetings of the RCUK Bioenergy Strategic Co-ordination group. The RCUK and Innovate UK Bioenergy Strategic Coordination Group (BSCG) is an ad hoc sub group of the RCUK Energy Programme. Membership is drawn from BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, NERC, STFC, Innovate UK, and selected academics in the bioenergy field. It receives and gives advice on the strategic direction of Bioenergy research from and to the Energy Programme's Coordination Group and Scientific Advisory Committee.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
 
Description Miscanthus field visit and information day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Up to 50 farmers, policymakers and innovation focused researchers from Wales, UK and Europe visited Aberystwyth University Miscanthus trial sites including a 6 ha site long term site for environmental monitoring and providing material for animal bedding, a local livestock farmer using Miscanthus as animal bedding for sheep and cattle, and new variety trials at approx. 1,000 feet at the Aberystwyth University Pwllpeiran experimental farm. The visit attracted questions and interest from farmers, and policymakers on the alternative uses for Miscanthus beyond energy and also the ability to grow it in the uplands.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description NERC Renewable Energy Showcase, London 
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 NERC Workshop - Challenges and Opportunities of Renewable Energy Showcase. This event was aimed at showcasing NERC science and identifying research and investment gaps in renewable energy. Jeanette Whitaker provided advice on the agenda, format and attendees invited to the workshop and was involved in discussion groups to identify research gaps and future funding opportunities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.nerc.ac.uk/latest/events/list/renewables2016/
 
Description Organised and participated in a workshop 'Spatial modelling of socio-economic systems' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact ADVENT and University of Southampton co-funded PhD workshop on 'Spatial Modelling Socio-ecological systems' on Nov 7 & 8, 2017 in Geography at the University of Southampton led by Dr Felix Eigenbrod. This two-day workshop - which was attended by all ADVENT PhD students as well as some other Southampton students working on socio-ecological questions - consisted of a morning lecture by Dr Eigenbrod on key issues in modelling socio-ecological systems, followed by an R practical on integrating different socio-ecological datasets in R (led by Dr Laura Graham (not ADVENT)). The second day was led by the PhD students and consisted of talks on their research and discussions of ADVENT PhD student led future work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Panel member at Communicating Bioenergy event held at British Embassy Stockholm 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This event brought together academia, industry and the public sector from Sweden and the UK to share their experience and discuss the challenges of communicating bioenergy. The workshop provided a platform for the participants to engage with key stakeholders and to improve their understanding of communication of bioenergy sustainability issues transfering knowledge from the more established sector in Sweden. Organisations included Svebio Gasum, WIP Renewable Energies, World Biogas Association, Swedish Energy Agency, SUPERGEN Bioenergy Hub, Biomass UK/Edelman.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation at NERC Knowledge Exchange Network meeting on Sustainable Bioenergy - J Whitaker 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation at NERC Knowledge Exchange Network meeting on "Sustainable bioenergy: managing and understanding the environmental risks and benefits". Led to a debate on how KE can be used to communicate difficult topics and raise awareness
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at Supergen Bioenergy Hub workshop on Bioenergy and Land-use change 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Supergen Hub Workshop on Bioenergy and Land-use change. I presented an overview of NERC/CEH research on bioenergy and land-use change to a meeting of international researchers. As a result I was invited to contribute to a COST action proposal to be submitted in 2017, led by Benoit Gabrielle. INRA, France
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
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/bioenergy-review-2018-call-evidence/
 
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