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UK government provides £3.3 million in funding to Miscanthus upscaling project

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A project to facilitate more planting of the perennial bioenergy crop, Miscanthus, has been awarded over £3.3 million (€3.9m) in funding through the second phase of the government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, to contribute to 2050 net zero targets.

Miscanthus specialist, Terravesta, has been successful in its bid to secure Phase Two funding for its OMENZ project which stands for "Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanisation and data capture to meet Net Zero targets".

OMENZ aims to deliver improvements on the entire Miscanthus establishment process, including approaches to producing planting material, field preparation, innovative agri-tech, new planting techniques and cutting-edge technologies to monitor establishment in the field.

Terravesta’s science and technology director, Dr Michael Squance, said that Miscanthus is important for our net zero targets. “The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget report states that to reach net zero, 700,000 hectares of bioenergy crops need to be planted by 2050 – that’s 30,000 hectares a year starting in 2030. 

“The first dedicated, peer-reviewed study into Miscanthus life cycles shows that the above-ground biomass grows annually and recycles all the carbon that’s been produced through planting, harvesting and burning the crop for renewable electricity. At the same time, the underground rhizome and decaying leaf litter fixes and stores net 0.64 tonnes of carbon (2.35 tonnes CO2e) per hectare, each year as it grows,” Squance said.

“The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is funding projects like ours through NZIP, the ‘Net Zero Innovation Portfolio’ and it is our aim to increase the scale and quality of Miscanthus establishment in the UK,” he continued.

“In Phase One of the project, we analysed field preparation, machinery, technology, and planting techniques to identify areas that can deliver gains, efficiency, and cost reduction. We started Phase 2 of the project in mid-2022 and will trial and develop innovative techniques to improve Miscanthus planting and establishment,” added Squance.

The Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme was launched in 2021 by BEIS to enable organisations - including start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises - to develop research projects that will deliver commercially viable innovations in biomass production. Phase Two will run until March 2025 to demonstrate the innovative new methods tested.

Dr Jason Kam, Terravesta’s head of R&D, said: “There are four areas of focus for OMENZ, the first is planting material production preparation, which will improve on the quality of the rhizomes when they come out of the nursery, look at Miscanthus seed development and test biological treatments and crop nutrition to help the plants to grow better.

“The second focus area is site preparation, where we will look at retaining moisture, reducing tillage, and improving soil health,” Kam said.

“Streamlining planting processes is an exciting part of the project, where agri-tech will be used to plant more crops in a shorter space of time.

“And lastly, establishment monitoring will test drone agronomy, remote sensing and data capture, to improve crop performance,” added Kam.

Terravesta was among 12 other projects to be awarded the funding in Phase 2, and partners in OMENZ include CHAP, Cranfield University, Energene Seeds, Liverpool John Moores University, TJSS, University of Lincoln, Ystumtec.