Green Fuels and other Gloucestershire biomass innovators win slice of £4 million government funding

Green Fuels Wadworths

Farming seaweed and growing algae from the by-products of brewing beer are among 24 projects, five based in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, which have been awarded a total of £4 million government funding to boost biomass production.

The 24 innovative projects, from start-ups and family-run businesses to research institutes and universities, will receive funding of up to £200,000 from the government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme to produce low-carbon energy using organic materials.

Green Fuels Research Limited, based at Berkeley in Gloucestershire, has received more than £190,000 for a project that will allow microscopic algae to be produced for biomass using wastewater from breweries and dairy industries. The company is working with Wadworth Brewery in Wiltshire.

The projects will boost biomass productivity in the UK, through breeding, planting, cultivating and harvesting of organic energy materials.

Biomass refers to sustainably derived plant material that could be used as fuel to produce energy or to create products such as chemicals and bio-plastics. It is a small but important part of the renewable energy mix that the UK requires to meet its commitment to eradicate its contribution to climate change by 2050 – and is also backed by the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change.

Biomass materials include non-food energy crops such as grasses and hemp, material from forestry operations and marine-based materials such as algae and seaweed.

Green Fuels Research’s project MISTY intends to increase microalgal biomass productivity in the UK by co-culturing microalgae with bacteria, using wastewaters from breweries and dairy industries.

The key innovation lies in cultivating microalgal strains in conditions adapted to the UK’s weather by using two bioreactor systems, one taking advantage of natural sunlight during spring and summer and the second using organic compounds present in dairy and brewery wastewater as carbon sources in winter. MISTY will enable breweries and the dairy sector to dispose of zero-value, environmentally harmful waste streams while sustainably industrialising a high-value bioenergy resource, decarbonising their value chains and combating climate change.

Green Fuels Chief Strategy Officer Paul Hilditch, said: “Importantly, the MISTY process doesn’t use drinking-quality water or compete for land with food production, while promising to increase the UK’s strategic biomass supply.”

Green Fuels is working with Wadworth & Co, an independent regional family brewer and pub company, operating in excess of 150 pubs and brewing beer in the market Devizes since 1875.

A brewery spokesperson said: “ We see this research as potentially beneficial in the longer term with the hope an industrial application would potentially bring innovative and or alternative low-cost wastewater treatment solutions to smaller breweries whilst helping to combat climate change.”

Other successful biomass projects which have received funding include:

Technological Innovations in Mobile Pelletisation, led by Cirencester-based White Horse Energy Ltd.

This project’s core aim is to apply mobile pelletiser technology to energy crops in the UK, thereby opening up a significant new source of pellets for the UK market, currently the world’s largest.

The project will pursue a set of technical innovations designed to extend mobile pelletising to miscanthus, both at harvest sites and stored in farmyards, as well as to woody energy crops.

The work includes a rigorous assessment of the cost and carbon benefits such innovations would bring for UK pellet supply chains as well as implications for market-level supply and demand of pellets sourced from the UK compared with imports. Additionally, White Horse Energy will survey a range of UK farmers and energy crop growers to ensure our proposed innovations are as practically useful to the market as possible.

White Horse Energy is a specialist small domestic biomass supplier. With offices in Cirencester, and distribution nodes throughout the country, it supplies wood pellets, kiln dried firewood and wood briquettes nationwide, with blisteringly quick delivery times and a commitment to exemplifying all that customer service should be.

Harvesting Agricultural Hedges for Biomass Production

Led by Gloucester-based  J George Limited, trading as Hej Harvester.

Agricultural hedges are often treated as a necessary field boundary that require costly maintenance. This project will change both the perception and use of agricultural hedges. It is estimated that there are 500,000 miles of agricultural hedgerows in the UK, which if harvested could make a significant contribution to UK feedstock production.

The project will focus on replacing energy intensive existing hedge cutters, which discard randomly sized pieces of hedge cuttings in the field or on roads to rot. The project will also focus on cutting the hedge growth into uniform size pieces of biomass ready for on farm burning or to be sold as a commodity to biomass users.

Phase 1 funding will allow the project to move from the design and patent pending stage to producing a very basic prototype cutting head to mount on a tractor.

Enhanced vegetative propagation combined with new variety introductions to expand energy crop production

Led by New Energy Farms (NEF), Marlborough

Perennial energy grass (PEG) crops are an important source of biomass but expansion of the cropping area has been curtailed by a lack of new, improved varieties and the difficulties of multiplying and planting PEG crops, which are usually vegetatively propagated.

There are a number of successful PEG breeding programmes around the world and this project will focus on accessing different species and varieties from these programmes to evaluate them in the UK and provide industry and growers with a wider choice of cropping and biomass options. Using a range of new PEG varieties has the potential to increase biomass yields, reduce costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result of the £4 million government funding, the Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme will enable greater supply of organic materials from domestic sources rather than using imported matter, with the 24 projects supporting rural economies across the UK, including providing jobs and encouraging investment.

New Energy Farms (NEF) is a technology licensing company, developing crop scale up and establishment systems. NEF was established in 2010, initially focusing on developing solutions for plantations of perennial grasses used for fuel and fibre.

BIOFIND: the Biomass Feedstock Innovation Demonstration Platform

Led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford

The BioFIND Phase 1 project will design and plan a UK-wide, multi-site demonstration platform for biomass feedstock production. It will support the development and trialling of innovations that address current barriers to large-scale domestic biomass supply in the UK.

The creation of the BioFIND platform will build a regionally based community who will contribute to the development, establishment and operation of the platform. Building this focal point for the industry will support the ambitious scaling up of both the bioenergy industry itself and the scale of planting.

The Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme is funded through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. This supports the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution that sets out the approach government will take to build back better, support green jobs, and accelerate our path to net zero.

UK Net Zero Business Champion Andrew Griffith said:

Innovation is crucial to achieve a low carbon future and it’s fantastic that the UK is home to so much world-leading entrepreneurial talent that will help us meet our climate change commitments.

Not only will this funding for biomass feedstocks help to achieve net zero by 2050, but it rightly rewards innovative people and businesses that are leading the way to a brighter, cleaner future.

The UK government intends to publish a new biomass strategy in 2022 which will review the amount of sustainable biomass available to the UK and how this could be best utilised across the economy to help achieve the government’s net zero and wider environmental commitments.

Dr Matthew Brown, co-founder of Forest Creation Partners, said:

This government funding will enable us to find more places to plant trees up and down the country, fighting climate change and supporting local nature and communities.

We’re proud to be part of Britain’s global leadership in using data science to create a greener and better world.

Dr Sebastien Jubeau and Dr Douglas McKenzie founders of Phycofoods, trading as Phyco-F, said:

At Phyco-F we are delighted to have been awarded a contract to evaluate the feasibility of producing microalgae at significant industrial quantities using CO2 and nutrients produced as by-products of whisky production.

If this evaluation is promising we will work with our partners in the whisky industry to develop a plan for the UK’s first demonstration plant that will be operating before the end of 2023.

In November 2020, the government launched the brand Together For Our Planet which provides practical tools, resources and advice to support companies to take action on climate change, understand their emissions and develop a plan to tackle them.