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Opinion: Duncan Eggar
BBSRC Bioenergy Champion, Duncan Eggar outlines how bioenergy will contribute significantly to meeting the UK Government’s commitment to 15% renewable energy in 2020.
The Government has committed to a 15% renewable energy target for the UK by 2020. This will be achieved across 3 sectors:
- Electricity generation - 30% (2008 5.6%)
- Heat - 12% (2008 1.0%)
- Transport - 10% (2008 2.3%)
To put this in context, in 2008 2.3% of UK energy was derived from renewables; the challenge is substantial and bioenergy has a major role to play if it is to be achieved.
Bioenergy will play a part in meeting the targets of all 3 sectors and particularly the road, marine and aviation transport sectors where biomass derived liquid fuels are the only substitute for petroleum based products. They can be blended with them, to a large extent use the existing distribution infrastructure and at low concentrations do not require modifications to vehicles.
Many will point to electric powered vehicles as being a solution to the road transport challenge. However it will take time for the fleet to achieve materiality and for the electricity supply infrastructure to be established. Without significant advances in battery technology, electric vehicles will be suitable only for light duty, short range applications. The need for liquid fuels for long haul and freight transport will continue for some time.
The Research Councils’ Energy Programme is responding to the bioenergy renewables challenge in a number of ways. Environmental, societal and economic sustainability lie at the heart of them all – and the focus is on second and third generation biofuels that do not compete with food crops.
Some examples are:
- The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre brings together universities, research institutes and industry to addresses sustainable biochemical routes to biofuels. It has 6 core research programmes:
- Improving perennial bioenergy crops to optimise biomass yield – Angela Karp, Rothamsted Research
- Manipulating cell wall lignin to optimise sugar release – Claire Halpin, University of Dundee
- Developing strategies to improve the release of sugars from plant cell walls –Paul Dupree, University of Cambridge
- Working with marine wood borers to identify new enzymes for the conversion of non-food biomass to biofuels – Simon McQueen-Mason, University of York
- Improving conversion efficiencies of lignocellulosic feedstock to sugars and the development of robust microbial strains to convert these to bioethanol – Katherine Smart, University of Nottingham
- Generating bacterial strains to convert lignocellulose to fermentable sugars to maximise biobutanol productivity – Nigel Minton, University of Nottingham
This is a snapshot of some of the bioenergy activities in the UK today. Bioenergy is major arena for scientific discovery both today and in the future. The bioenergy contribution to the renewables challenge is achievable. The imperative for today is to take a whole systems approach and to draw the strands of research together as a single system. The world is changing; together we can create a resource to be called on by policymakers and industry in the creation of a new energy economy.
Duncan Eggar was appointed as BBSRC’s Bioenergy Champion in 2009 to develop and coordinate the work of BSBEC, as well as forging new links with national and international policymakers and other funders of sustainable bioenergy research.
Prior to this appointment, Duncan had a long career with BP in a variety of roles involving extensive overseas experience. For the last 8 years he has worked on business sustainability issues and their strategic implications; this included a 2-year secondment to the UK Sustainable Development Commission.
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