Perennial biomass crops, such as willows and the grass Miscanthus, are fast growing and can produce biomass with little N fertiliser. They are not grown for food and can be cultivated on sub-optimal land, thus minimising conflicts with food production. Biofuels from these crops are also associated with high energy savings and GHG reductions.
However, most of the carbon is in the form of lignocellulose which makes up the plant cell wall and complex linkages make it difficult for enzymes to access the carbon in this form. In BSBEC-BiomASS (the BSBEC Perennial Bioenergy Crops Programme) we will bring together leading experts in plant biology, crop breeding, genomics, biochemistry, biomathematics and bioenergy to overcome these limitations and thus underpin the improvements needed in willows and Miscanthus to develop biofuels from plant lignocellulose. Our focus will be on:
(1) Optimising biomass yield. We will investigate ways of capturing more energy by developing leaf canopies earlier and extending the growing season and by improving the canopy architecture and we will investigate how carbon is partitioned into different parts of the plant eg, shoots, roots, organs, tissues, cells and cell walls.
(2) Optimising the biomass composition (specifically the accessibility of carbon in cell walls) for processing to biofuels. This will be done by first improving our understanding of biomass composition, how it varies naturally in Miscanthus and willow and how this variation influences the processibility of the biomass. We will also use gene discovery techniques to identify genes that affect cell wall composition and accessibility of the carbon.
For more information about the research click here