Bioenergy

The thermochemical conversion of biomass to energy vectors (e.g. heat, electricity and liquid fuels). This research area includes combustion, pyrolysis, gasification systems and the engineering integration of biomass conversion technologies into a sustainable system. It excludes the study of fluid dynamics and the study of bioelectrical engineering. Research focusing on utilisation of biomass to solely produce chemicals is also excluded, whilst the production of chemicals as a by-product of biorefinery process for energy generation is acceptable.

We will maintain the size of this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. Through outreach and critical mass investments in research and training, emphasis will be on prioritising and co-ordinating complementary research projects with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to support topics between the interfaces and accelerate research into real-world applications.

Our aim is for this portfolio to align with other UKRI partners and organisations, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for International Development (DfID), to provide a whole-systems approach to decarbonisation. Academics and industrialists (e.g. companies such as Drax and Veolia) will be consulted to consider economic, social and environmental factors (e.g. cost, efficiency, health and resource management) as well as integration within the wider energy system.

A review of available skills and knowledge, infrastructure and large investments in industry and academia will help ensure that resources are allocated strategically and efficiently. It is key to maintain the balance of critical-mass investments and community-led research at the current level, while continuing to provide postdoctoral and early-career support.

Recent reports have shown there is a requirement for sustainable Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) to meet net zero emissions (Evidence source 7 - 12). Focus on thermochemical conversion of biomass (and waste) to energy vectors, including heat, electricity and liquid fuels (particularly drop-in fuels for transport), will be encouraged. Links between Bioenergy, CCS and Fossil Fuel Power Generation should be fostered, (Evidence source 12) to ensure these Research Areas can be integrated efficiently.

Researchers already collaborate strongly with countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. To maximise UK influence and impact, the community is expected to continue fostering such opportunities. The potential relevance of this area to Official Development Assistance funding streams is recognised.

Highlights:

Bioenergy is a developing area considered to be a major potential contributor to a resilient, productive UK energy system (Evidence source 2). It features in a number of official reports and roadmaps which feed into strategies on the future of UK energy as part of a flexible, sustainable, cost-effective and renewable system (Evidence source 2-11). As reflected in those documents, its use is of national importance if the UK is to achieve its 2050 environmental and climate change targets.

We recognise that this is an interdisciplinary research area where the breadth of topics spans several Research Councils' remits. It demonstrates links to other research areas in our portfolio (CCS, Fossil Fuel Power Generation, Whole Energy Systems, Combustion Engineering, and the Living with Environmental Change Programme) and has clear relevance to topics within BBSRC, NERC and ESRC. The Supergen Bioenergy Hub is able to draw the relevant skills and stakeholders together to provide a whole-systems approach to addressing UK Bioenergy challenges.

As the UK moves away from reliance on fossil fuels and takes steps towards achieving environmental targets, Bioenergy as a resource for power and heat generation, drop-in fuels (in transport) and bioremediation becomes increasingly attractive. The quality of skills, the transfer of knowledge and the level of UK investment in Bioenergy are reflected in strong links with industrial organisations (e.g. Drax power stations, the first power station to use biomass as an alternative to coal), which have contracts in place to allow for feedstock pilot testing and which feed back research challenges that require addressing at higher Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs).

In view of the limited resources in the UK for Bioenergy (in terms of soil type, land surface area and climate), the community has increased collaboration with relevant Bioenergy stakeholders outside the UK (including Africa and the Philippines). The amount of funding leveraged from non-UK sources demonstrates the strength and quality of UK research.

Aligns particularly strongly with Resilient and Productive Nation Outcomes and the following specific Ambitions:

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

Bioenergy is a versatile low-carbon resource with a great degree of flexibility. 

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

Using biomass as a resource for energy has the potential to reduce power intermittency and improve waste management methods, and may play a part in flood defence.

>P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

Developments in Bioenergy have potential for significant impact on the transport industry via drop-in fuels, particularly in aviation and in combination with CCS as BECCS.

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

This research area will have a significant impact on reducing waste, decreasing negative environmental impacts and development of used materials for reuse.

H2: Improve prevention and public health

Reducing the amount of emissions entering the atmosphere will have a positive impact on public health.

  1. Royal Academy of Engineering, A Critical Time for UK Energy Policy: What Must Be Done Now to Deliver the UK's Future Energy System, (2015).
  2. Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), Bioenergy: Delivering Greenhouse Gas Emission Savings through UK Bioenergy Value Chains (PDF), (2015).
  3. ETI, Application of Sustainable Biomass and Waste Resources for Flexible and Affordable Low Carbon Energy (PDF), (2015).
  4. ETI, Bioenergy: Enabling UK Biomass (PDF), (2015).
  5. Supergen Programme Review, (2016).
  6. UKERC, The costs and impacts of intermittency – 2016 update, (2017)
  7. Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, Greenhouse Gas Removal, (2017)
  8. BEIS, The Clean Growth Strategy, (2018).
  9. BEIS, Industrial Strategy, (2018).
  10. Committee on Climate Change, Biomass in a low-carbon economy, (2018)
  11. Committee on Climate Change, Net Zero: UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, (2019).
  12. BEIS, Energy Needs Innovation Assessment, (2019).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Bioenergy (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Elizabeth Bent
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Energy
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444426