Knowledge production for sustainable bio-energy: an analysis of UK decision processes and priorities

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Engineering & Innovation


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Description Focusing on UK priorities for bioenergy innovation, this project aimed: to identify the range of potential innovation pathways; to analyse how institutions and processes are linked in selecting R&D priorities; and to engage with stakeholders involved in shaping them. To explain such priorities, it drew upon two theoretical frameworks - imaginaries as future societal visions, future expectations for technological innovation. The study gathered data from documents, interviews and seminars.

Some key findings:

Support measures for bioenergy innovation have been steered through arrangements between state bodies and industry, e.g. the Technology Strategy Board. Scientists' R&D proposals advocate specific technological pathways as means to fulfil various policy aims and to attract private-sector sponsors; such co-funding has been an advantage (or even a requirement) for gaining Research Council grants. Through the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), scale-up projects depend on agreement among several multinational companies sharing financial risks and benefits.

Various R&D priorities have been promoted by linking expectations for environmental and economic benefits. Prospective economic benefits have two main categories: reducing the national costs of GHG savings, and enhancing or capturing economic value. UK strategy advocates three innovation pathways - biohydrogen, advanced biofuels and gasification - as long-term 'hedging options' to deal with future uncertainties, especially by converting various forms of waste. For those various pathways, expectations for technoscientific progress have become more uncertain or longer-term over the past decade, though without necessarily undermining support measures. Expectations for future economic benefits have played a strong role, while conflating national benefits with private-sector interests.

Resulting from those arrangements and future expectations, innovation priorities have favoured bioenergy mainly as input-substitutes within centralised large-scale infrastructures, especially current ones. As oil substitutes, for example, advanced biofuels have been favoured over biohydrogen in bioenergy R&D funds. There are exceptions: in particular, support measures have recently favoured R&D for biowaste conversion through anaerobic digestion, which can help to decentralise energy systems. But the policy framework makes assumptions narrowing what societal futures are feasible.
Exploitation Route see summary above
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description [This form is unclear about whether it wants a repeat of previous reportage or only impacts since then. So below is the text previously submitted] The project closely engaged with UK policy processes and stimulated reflective discussions on bioenergy innovation as choices of potential futures. To present its preliminary findings, the project held two stakeholder seminars (on 13.10.11 and 20.11.12); these were attended by key actors in UK bioenergy including the RCUK's Bioenergy Champion, the Dept for Energy and Climate Change DECC and the most relevant DEFRA staff member. The first seminar was hosted by the DECC School series at the BIS Conference Centre. This seminar overlapped with intense discussion inside and beyond government in preparing the 2012 UK Bioenergy Strategy. At both seminars, participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to reflect on the issues and gave confirmatory comments on the draft analysis. In January 2013 the project's four-page summary was circulated to our project-specific email list of more than 100 key actors in the area of bioenergy innovation, i.e. policy, industry and academic (the latter Europe-wide). Copies were also printed and posted in bundles to key contacts for distribution to colleagues. The project's website features the 4-page summary and adds journal papers as they are published; see In those ways the project contributed to wider UK policy discussions about how bioenergy innovation priorities relate to potential societal futures.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Energy
Impact Types Policy & public services