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    A group of Spanish investors is building a new bioethanol plant in the western region of Extremadura that should be producing fuel from maize in 2009. Alcoholes Biocarburantes de Extremadura (Albiex) has already started work on the site near Badajoz and expects to spend €42/$59 million on the plant in the next two years. It will produce 110 million litres a year of bioethanol and 87 million kg of grain byproduct that can be used for animal feed. Europapress - September 28, 2007.

    Portuguese fuel company Prio SA and UK based FCL Biofuels have joined forces to launch the Portuguese consumer biodiesel brand, PrioBio, in the UK. PrioBio is scheduled to be available in the UK from 1st November. By the end of this year (2007), says FCL Biofuel, the partnership’s two biodiesel refineries will have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes which will is set to grow to 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2010. Biofuel Review - September 27, 2007.

    According to Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, one third of the value of all of Finland's exports consists of environmentally friendly technologies. Finland has invested in climate and energy technologies, particularly in combined heat and power production from biomass, bioenergy and wind power, the president said at the UN secretary-general's high-level event on climate change. Newroom Finland - September 25, 2007.

    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

    Analysts fear that record oil prices will fuel general inflation in Kenya, particularly hitting the poorest hard. They call for the development of new policies and strategies to cope with sustained high oil prices. Such policies include alternative fuels like biofuels, conservation measures, and more investments in oil and gas exploration. The poor in Kenya are hit hardest by the sharp increase, because they spend most of their budget on fuel and transport. Furthermore, in oil intensive economies like Kenya, high oil prices push up prices for food and most other basic goods. All Africa - September 20, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Power has won an order to supply Kalmar Energi Värme AB with a biomass-fired power boiler for the company’s new combined heat and power plant in Kalmar on the east coast of Sweden. Start-up for the plant is scheduled for the end of 2009. The value of the order is approximately EUR 55 million. The power boiler (90 MWth) will utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology and will burn biomass replacing old district heating boilers and reducing the consumption of oil. The delivery will also include a flue gas condensing system to increase plant's district heat production. Metso Corporation - September 19, 2007.

    Jo-Carroll Energy announced today its plan to build an 80 megawatt, biomass-fueled, renewable energy center in Illinois. The US$ 140 million plant will be fueled by various types of renewable biomass, such as clean waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Jo-Carroll Energy - September 18, 2007.

    Beihai Gofar Marine Biological Industry Co Ltd, in China's southern region of Guangxi, plans to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year fuel ethanol plant using cassava as feedstock. The Shanghai-listed company plans to raise about 560 million yuan ($74.5 million) in a share placement to finance the project and boost its cash flow. Reuters - September 18, 2007.

    The oil-dependent island state of Fiji has requested US company Avalor Capital, LLC, to invest in biodiesel and ethanol. The Fiji government has urged the company to move its $250million 'Fiji Biofuels Project' forward at the earliest possible date. Fiji Live - September 18, 2007.

    The Bowen Group, one of Ireland's biggest construction groups has announced a strategic move into the biomass energy sector. It is planning a €25 million investment over the next five years to fund up to 100 projects that will create electricity from biomass. Its ambition is to install up to 135 megawatts of biomass-fuelled heat from local forestry sources, which is equal to 50 million litres or about €25m worth of imported oil. Irish Examiner - September 16, 2007.

    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Canadian universities receive C$6 million to build plant-based 'BioCars'

The energy needed to manufacture a car is around a tenth of the energy used by that same car during its life on the road. Similarly, around ten percent of the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced over the entire life-cycle of an average passenger car comes from manufacturing the vehicle. No wonder then that car makers are trying to increase the efficiency of the production process and to lower its carbon footprint.

Established auto manufacturers go through this process step-by-step, gradually and slowly. Academia offers a more interesting hunting ground for more radical approaches. Just recently we reported about a conglomerate of U.S. universities who are investing in building an 'AgriCar' - a vehicle with the bulk of its components made from biodegradable, plant-based composites (earlier post). During their life-cycle, such renewable biopolymers, resins and bioplastics emit far less greenhouse gases than similar components made from petroleum. And with rising oil prices, these components begin to make economic sense, since the raw materials from which they are made - starches, sugars, vegetable oils, natural fibers - are becoming competitive with crude oil.

Now a group of Canadian universities has received a C$6 (€3.9/US$5.1) million fund from the Ontario government to invest in the development of a similar car. The project envisions a fusion between biotechnology and nanotechnology, resulting in high-tech, plant-based materials.

Announcing the project - the Ontario BioCar Initiative - Ontario's Premier and Minister of Research and Innovation Dalton McGuinty said "These initiatives will help make Ontario a world leader in bio-based automotive manufacturing and help us protect our environment for generations to come." Ontario's agriculture will tap into this new market, by converting its harvest — such as wheat, corn, soybeans and forest biomass — into viable materials for the auto industry.

The same government is also investing $255,000 in the "Ontario BioAuto Council" to help move these emerging technologies into the marketplace and attract jobs and investment.

The BioCar Initiative is a multi-university project led by the University of Guelph. It involves 16 scientists at Guelph and the universities of Toronto, Waterloo and Windsor. They are combining their research strengths and efforts to improve the development and delivery capacity of biomaterials for the automotive industry:
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“The BioCar initiative aligns some of the most distinctive innovation capacity in Ontario,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “It involves a consortium of universities working with two of the largest industries in Ontario, the automotive industry and the agricultural industry. This combination provides an unprecedented opportunity for the province to be seen as a major contributor to the global biobased industrial revolution that is occurring.”

Guelph’s role will include creating new industrial crops that can be turned into composite materials used to make interior automobile components.

“It’s a whole new way of looking at agriculture and a whole new relationship between the sector and Ontario’s economy,” said plant agriculture professor Larry Erickson, one of the lead researchers. “It opens the door for a lot more approaches and utilization of crops. Now, agriculture is more than meat and potatoes; it’s car parts, building materials, fuel and more.”

It’s been known for years that plant material can be used to make components in the manufacturing process, but it’s only recently that society recognized the need to do this commercially.

For the past 100 years, research efforts and resources have not been focused on using crops in this way because there’s been an abundant supply of low-cost petroleum, said Erickson. “All of that has changed now. We have to catch up and make up for lost time and develop alternative technology.”

The BioCar project literally starts in the field, with Guelph looking at the raw agricultural materials and studying crop genetics. It then moves to processing and separating the biological feedstock in collaboration with the University of Toronto, to engineering composite resins and polymers for application to automotive parts at Waterloo, to finally incorporating the new products into automobiles at Windsor.

“Talk about a value-added chain of research,” said Erickson. “The BioCar Initiative is a continual stream of research and development with incremental improvements made at each point in the value chain. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

He added that research into bioproducts has often been challenging because these new materials are currently not economically competitive with synthetic products. But the four universities joining together and creating an integrated scientific team changes things, he said.

Mohini Sain, professor of forestry and applied chemistry, with considerable achievements in the development of biopolymers and nanostructured biomaterials at the University of Toronto, and head of the Center for Biocomposites at the same university
will lead the BioCar project at the University of Guelph where he is an associate prof. He says that the key to success is how fast and how economically these materials can be made to match the performance of the existing plastics, composites and metals. Sain has already developed basic biocomposites for the automotive industry made from natural fibers such as flax, hemp, jute or kenaf.

Ontario BioAuto Council Executive Director Terry Daynard adds that the projects may make position Ontario to capture a substantial share of what is projected to be a $50-billion global market for bioplastics by the year 2015.

"Ontario farmers are among the most creative and innovative in the world," adds Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Leona Dombrowsky. "By supporting bio-based research, we can help farmers pursue exciting new markets, create jobs and build prosperity in our rural communities."

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French nuclear energy giant AREVA to build 6 biomass power plants in Thailand and Brazil

France-based multinational industrial conglomerate AREVA announces [*French] that it has been awarded contracts to build six biomass power stations - four in Brazil and two in Thailand - worth more than €70 (US$92) million.

AREVA is the world's leading nuclear power company offering CO2-free energy and being the only enterprise with a presence in each industrial activity linked to nuclear energy: from mining to enrichment and engineering nuclear reactors to stabilization and dismantling. It has recently begun to diversify into renewables.

The contracts for the biomass cogeneration plants were signed with German company CCC Machinery and with the Bua Sommai Electricity Generating Company in Thailand.

The power plants have a capacity of between 10 and 12MW each and will be fuelled by wood waste and agro-forestry residues in the case of the Brazilian plants, and by rice hulls, an abundant biomass resource in Thailand (see our earlier post on highly dedicated and optimized fluidized bed combustors for rice hulls, and on the energy potential of this resource).

The bioenergy plants will deliver electricity at competitive prices in the rural regions where they are to be established. The operators will receive carbon credits valid and tradeable under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Brazilian contract represents the largest order of AREVA's activities in the sector of renewable energy.

These activities, mainly concentrated around wind, biomass and hydrogen, were grouped into one business unit in november 2006. The group sees them as a natural complement to its nuclear activities, which it is promoting under the motto of delivering 'CO2-free' electricity [entry ends here].
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Brazil in Africa: South-South cooperation on bioenergy speeding up

Brazil is taking its role as biofuels leader and its representation as a model for the Global South to follow, very seriously. Earlier we reported on the country's first exchanges last year with countries like Senegal, Nigeria and Sudan, and on how scientists are studying models to replicate Brazil's green energy success abroad (earlier post).

Late last year, however, the country gave a much stronger sign of its intentions, when the Brazilian government created a dedicated Africa cell for the Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agrícola (Embrapa - Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) in Accra, Ghana's capital. Embrapa is a leading government-supported biotech and agricultural research organisation with a long history of involvement in Brazil's biofuels success (e.g. Embrapa helped decode the genome of sugarcane).

Earlier this month, diplomats of 18 African embassies gathered in the Brazilian capital Brasília, to attend the announcement of the objectives of the organization's new office in Africa. Its aims are to promote South-South exchanges of expertise and technology transfers from Brazil to Africa, in order to speed up the transition towards bioenergy and biofuels in the developing world. African countries have a vast untapped sustainable bioenergy potential (earlier post), and Brazil thinks that investing in it offers a powerful set of tools for economic development and poverty alleviation, for the fight against social inequality and for the revitalisation of rural communities.

Brazil is effectively giving birth to a new development paradigm, based on South-South exchanges, in which access to energy, energy security and social development are key.

A quick overview of Embrapa's actions on the continent during the first months of the existence of its Africa cell:
  • Morocco becomes the first North African country to establish a partnership with the office. Two weeks ago, the coordinator of Embrapa Africa, Cláudio Bragantini, visited the agronomic research institute of the federal Hasan II Academy. According to Bragantini the partnership will be concentrated mainly in the production of biodiesel, which may be obtained from castor seeds and pine seeds, drought tolerant plants of the region. "The Moroccans are very interested in participating in trainings in the area of biotechnology and also in the development of agricultural projects with the private sector," stated Bragantini.
  • Libya is another Arab country that has shown interest to make use of the Embrapa office in Africa. According to the Bragantini, the Libyan embassy in Ghana is keen on a partnership in the area of irrigated agriculture. "Libya finances many agricultural projects in Ghana and in other countries in the region," he said. According to Bragantini, the idea behind this specific project is to pipe a large volume of water discovered when drilling in the search of oil and use the product in irrigated agriculture. "There (in Libya) we have a great advantage. The government has financial assets and great interest in the project and Embrapa has the necessary technology. This is an opportunity that may generate a fabulous partnership. We promised to move ahead with this project and to send a letter of intention to the Libyan embassy in Ghana," he explained.
  • Tunisia: with regard to Tunisia, Bragantini says that a delegation of four Embrapa Forestry representatives, from the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, travelled to the country to develop a project in the area of management of eucalyptus for the extraction of energy. The Brazilian embassy in Ghana has received a further note of interest from Tunisia to develop other projects related to bioenergy in arid environments.
  • Angola - a country with a large bioenergy potential (earlier post) - has demanded help for expertise on developing a soybean industry for biofuels.
  • In Mozambique, Embprapa is looking into to strengthening the research capacities of the Institute for Agrarian Research of Mozambique (Iiam), which requested such help.
  • Across sub-Saharan Africa there is great demand for knowledge and expertise on the post-harvest processing technologies for cassava, one of the most abundantly grown crops on the continent. "We have already trained technicians in Ghana for this activity," explains Bragantini. Cassava is being researched as a feedstock for biofuel production.
  • Researchers from Embrapa's Africa cell have further visited Kenya, Benin and Togo (no details yet).
Embrapa's mission in the South
Bragantini explains that "it is worth pointing out that the office does not only represent Embrapa, but Brazil as a whole. The office works as an agent to facilitate the link between financial organizations and governments and we will have our doors opened to private companies in agribusiness that may be interested in participating in this revolution":
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"We have a work agenda that is geared at transferring technology that worked in Brazil. We offer them our work and, if necessary, will work based on the demand of each country," pointed out Bragantini. The requests reach the office through the Foreign Relations Department at the Embrapa, through the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC), directly to the office or even through international organizations interested in partnerships.

According to Bragantini, the greatest demand from governments is related to small farmers. "We have large volumes of technology developed in the northeast of Brazil and in the semi-arid regions of the country that may adapt well to the climate and soil in Africa," stated Bragantini.

According to him, the great demand is for direct planting and minimum cultivation (a system that requires some superficial soil work), for projects that promote integration between crops and livestock farming. "In savannas a large part of the soil is degraded and needs recovery," he said.

Social development, poverty alleviation
Long neglected by international development agencies, governments and NGOs alike, basic agriculture is back into the spotlight of policy makers and development economists. Brazil's left-leaning government, which has vowed to fight social inequality, poverty and hunger domestically - and achieved modest success so far - with programs in which rural development are key, now wants to export the same discourse on development to Africa. It feels international agencies like the World Bank, the IMF, or individual governments have not achieved any substantial success on this front, because these agents mainly rely on purely neo-liberal economic policies (symbolised by the now defunct 'structural adjustment' ideology) which tend to increase social inequalities.

By putting rural and sustainable development, and concrete tech transfers central to its own assistance program for Africa, Brazil makes a shift in current thinking on development. "We want to associate ourselves with the African countries. We want to make agreements for cooperation in the area of technology transfer for tropical agriculture," stated the acting head of international relations at Embrapa, Washington Silva, at the diplomatic meeting in Brasília. "The African countries need Brazilian help in the area of research and technology transfer to help in the development of the continent."

According to Silva, there is already sufficient demand in the African countries for cooperation agreements to be developed. "The ambassadors showed interest and inquired about how to proceed to have Embrapa services," he said. The meeting also served to schedule the beginning of dialogue to establish strategies for the strengthening of relations between Brazil and the African countries.

More information:
BrazzilMag: A Whole Lot Going on in Africa Courtesy of Brazil - March 13, 2007.
ANBA: Morocco wants to produce biodiesel with Brazilian technology - March 12, 2007.
BrazzilMag: Brazil Uses Agriculture to Fight Poverty in Africa - March 5, 2007.

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Inter-American Development Bank launches energy and climate change initiative

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved its 'Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Initiative'. The plan aims to help the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to expand the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, increase their access to international carbon finance, and support efforts to adapt to climate change.

The initiative calls for action in four key areas:
  1. Renewables: the IDB will help countries to assess their potential for renewable energy and energy efficiency to meet their energy needs. It will also work to minimize regulatory, institutional, and financial barriers to making investments in these areas while increasing incentives. In addition, the IDB will finance renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.
  2. Biofuels: the initiative also calls for the IDB to help countries assess their potential as producers of biofuels, promote policies that support biofuel development, and finance biofuel projects and the adaptation of new biofuel technologies.
  3. Greenhouse gas emissions: the Bank will develop so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects in which entities in industrialized countries receive credit in exchange for financing projects in developing countries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The IDB will work to lower transaction costs and risks for such operations as well as strengthen the capacity of the region’s countries to participate in the international carbon market.
  4. Climate risk assessments: the IDB will consider the risk of climate change in operations in its borrowing countries, particularly to reduce the vulnerability of urban and regional infrastructure and rural communities.
In the past year the IDB approved financing for a number of projects to promote sustainable energy and climate change mitigation. The included the following:
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  • Support for creating business models for energy efficiency services
  • An analysis of the role and potential for biofuels in Central America.
  • An assessment of the potential for biofuel production from sugar cane in Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados and the possibilities for these countries to obtain carbon credits through the CDM specialized market.
  • An assessment study of biofuels for transport in Mexico.
  • An operation to improve energy efficiency in water pumping systems in El Salvador.
  • A study of opportunities to increase efficiency in residential, service and commercial sectors in Central America.
  • The development of a renewable energy tool kit tailored for Latin America.
  • Assistance to countries in preparing CDM documentation.
In June of this year the IDB will present an action plan that establishes targets, milestones, timeframes, responsibilities for priority actions and a budget for activities included in the initiative. The plan will also include activities for raising awareness and providing technical support to IDB staff and the Bank’s clients. In addition, the Bank will meet with donor agencies to establish financial contributions for the initiative.

The new initiative and action plan follow a series of studies and events that the Bank has undertaken to identify opportunities and needs for renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Last November the IDB held a regional conference, “Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Investment in Latin American and the Caribbean” in which decision-makers from the public and private sectors discussed how to increase investments in sustainable energy in the priority areas of energy production, housing, transportation and industry, as well as opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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UK scientists hunt for biomass grass types in Asia

Scientists of the UK's Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) have collected novel types of the giant grass Miscanthus giganteus x from China, Taiwan and Japan in order to boost the development of biomass from energy crops. A plant-breeding process is now underway with the samples.

Biomass crops are becoming increasingly important as concerns grow about climate change and the need to replace carbon dioxide producing fossil fuels – oil ,coal and gas – with carbon-neutral renewable sources of energy. Energy crops like Miscanthus form the basis of a series of possible end products, either in gaseous (biogas), liquid (ethanol, bio-oil, synthetic biofuels) or solid form (combustion for power and electricity generation).

To succeed in this role, a crop has to grow rapidly and yield a reliable, regular harvest. A prime candidate for the UK is Miscanthus, also known as elephant grass, a perennial species native to Asia that can grow more than 4 metres of bamboo-like stems in a year.
“A number of trials across Europe have confirmed the potential of this highly impressive grass from East Asia. But existing varieties haven't been bred specifically for high yields, and we know that we can make major gains through scientifically-based plant breeding.” - Dr John Clifton-Brown, leads the breeding programme of Miscanthus at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) funded the collecting trip to seek out new specimens suitable for incorporation into his breeding programme. Planning of the trip in conjunction with counterparts in Asia took months to put together, but was helped enormously by the presence in IGER of Lin Huang, from Taiwan , who is a biological data analyst at the Institute. Lin Huang also joined the expedition, which took place in October, as interpreter and recorder.

A key aim was to find plants with characters such as extreme height, thick stems and dense growth. The team found some extraordinary material:
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“We found plants with superb agronomic potential, some growing as much as 4-5metres in a year,” said Dr Clifton-Brown. “And in Taiwan, even at 1800 metres above sea level, we found plants as tall as 3-4 metres.” In total they brought back some 250 samples for the IGER breeding programme. Samples have been shared with donor countries and agreements to share any commercial benefits have been made with each country. Where possible, seed was collected but otherwise rhizomes had to be dug up. Collected samples are held in strict quarantine to avoid any risk of the introduction of new pests or diseases. At present, in contrast to willow, another prospective energy crop, Miscanthus is surprisingly immune to pest and disease attack.

Miscanthus grows across a wide geographical area, so the journey took in Japan and Taiwan , as well as some remote parts of central China , where few westerners go. “It was an amazing experience,” Dr Clifton-Brown said. “In China we saw bargefuls of Miscanthus being collected for paper-making, in Taiwan we drove along perilous mountain passes above the clouds in ‘Miscanthus heaven' and in Japan we had close encounters with some particularly vicious looking spiders!

Work will now begin on breeding new Miscanthus varieties suitable for conditions in the UK. Armed with the new material from Asia, the researchers aim to increase yield, and improve other traits associated with chemical composition while retaining tolerance to the stresses such as long dry summers.

By increasing genetic diversity, breeding of improved Miscanthus will also reduce genetic vulnerability of Miscanthus. Cultivation is currently based on a single clone. “Although Miscanthus is a tough plant, genetic variety will offer protection against unexpected pests and diseases.” said Dr Clifton-Brown.

In contrast to arable crops such as wheat, which have also been proposed as energy crops, miscanthus has lower fertiliser requirements, less requirement for ploughing, positive effects on biodiversity and therefore has a less adverse environmental impact. Biomass crops are beginning to make a significant impact on the UK agricultural sector, and the new breeding programme looks set to secure the future of Asian elephant grass as an option for farmers.

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