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Study: UK could dedicate more land to energy crops

By Anna Austin
Posted September 17, 2009, at 2:21 p.m. CST

A recent study performed by the U.K. Research Councils Rural Economy and Land Use Program indicates that short-rotation coppice (SRC) willow and miscanthus generate high-carbon savings and greenhouse gas reductions when used to produce energy.

The research project aimed to investigate the potential implications of increasing the area currently used for growing SRC willow and miscanthus in two study regions-the Southwest and East Midland regions in England-and to develop tools for assessing the potential effects of different expansion scenarios in the U.K.

According to the report, the two crops are currently grown on approximately 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) in the U.K. to provide electricity and heat.

To determine which areas would be most suitable to grow biomass crops, the researchers used geographic information system-based 3-D landscape visualizations to map variations in miscanthus yields across England, and then to mask areas where the crop would not be grown due to land-use constraints.

The study concluded that there is sufficient land available to meet production up to the U.K. Biomass Strategy objective of 350,000 hectares for electricity, without significantly impacting food production.

Part of the U.K. Biomass Strategy, which the government published in May 2007, includes increasing the amount of perennial energy crops produced in the U.K. to meet market demands, with the potential to use up to 350,000 more hectares across the U.K. by 2020. This would bring the total land availability for biofuel and energy crops up to about 1 million hectares, or the equivalent to 17 percent of total U.K. arable land.

The study's findings will be used to update the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Best Practice Guides for SRC and miscanthus, and to provide the scientific tools to underpin the conduct of environmental impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments or sustainability appraisals involving projects, policies or programs where increased planting of energy crops in the U.K. is proposed or anticipated.

To learn more about the study, visit http://www.relu-biomass.org.uk.
 

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