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Funding fuels development of bioenergy crop

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26 April 2012

New single, integrated Miscanthus breeding programme to speed commercial advances

The development of a promising biofuel crop, Miscanthus, has been given a boost today with the announcement of an additional £6.4M in UK Government funding, over five years, for an integrated and collaborative breeding programme.

The breeding programme aims to produce new commercial varieties of optimised Miscanthus to make a significant contribution to future energy security.

The development of crops as sources of bioenergy is an important component in finding economically acceptable substitutes for fossil fuels. Miscanthus, a ubiquitous Asian grass with high yields and requiring low inputs, is a particularly promising plant species for bioenergy development.

The new collaborative breeding programme will further link previous research on Miscanthus at IBERS (funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2004-2010 and by Ceres, Inc., an integrated energy crop seed company (from 2007 onwards), to a suite of co-ordinated research projects funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) that underpin breeding science.

It will result in a single, integrated Miscanthus breeding programme, backed by strong science, to develop new varieties with improved qualities making them suitable for commercialisation

Dr. John Clifton-Brown, the project leader at IBERS said: "Miscanthus' excellent physiological characteristics put it amongst the most promising plant species for the production of lignocellulosic biomass in the UK and beyond. Targets for improvement include not only increased yield and quality, but also seed based varieties and faster establishment rates that will provide yield increases at lower costs.

"This LINK funding and the bringing together of universities and industries will speed up the development of the new commercial Miscanthus varieties to make a major contribution towards our target to double net energy yield per hectare before 2030," he added.

The additional funds announced today are being provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of the national LINK scheme.

LINK projects promote academic/industrial collaboration in pre-competitive research and bring together companies and science-base partners.

This project will see Aberystwyth University's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) and the University of Aberdeen's Institute for Biological and Environmental Sciences join forces with Ceres, the National Farmers Union, Blankney Estates as growers, Biocatalysts as enzyme providers for biomass conversion into biofuels and E.ON as an electricity generator from biomass combustion.

Richard Flavell, PhD, FRS, CBE, the Chief Scientific Officer of Ceres, the major industrial partner, underscored the value of public-private collaboration in bringing needed improvements to the market.

He said: "New, seeded, high yielding Miscanthus varieties are required to reach the production goals envisioned by the biomass industries in the UK and the rest of the world, and I'm confident that the greater coordination among the leading public and private programmes in both breeding and the underpinning science will facilitate the development of improved varieties far beyond current performance. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts."

ENDS

About Defra LINK funding

Defra LINK funding has now come to an end, although BBSRC still operates an in-house 'stand-alone' LINK scheme. TSB also offers co-funding opportunities for near market research available to other commercial interests.

About Aberystwyth University

Established in 1872, Aberystwyth (www.aber.ac.uk) is a leading teaching and research university and was awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2009. The 2011 National Student Survey placed Aberystwyth in joint 4th for student satisfaction in the UK amongst public residential universities and first in Wales. Aberystwyth University is a registered charity. No 1145141. For more information visit www.aber.ac.uk.

About IBERS

The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University, was established in April 2008 following the merger of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, formerly part of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with Aberystwyth University. IBERS continues to receive strategic funding for research from the BBSRC and benefits from financial support from the Welsh Government, DEFRA and the European Union.

Around 300 research, teaching and support staff conduct basic, strategic and applied research in biology from the level of genes and other molecules to the impact of climate change and bio-energy on sustainable agriculture and land use.

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes .

External contact

Dawn Havard, Communications Project Consultant, IBERS

tel: 01970 628440
mob: 07779 645598

Arthur Dafis, Communications and Public Affairs Office, Aberystwyth University

tel: 01970 621763
mob: 07841 979452