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Wetland waste bioenergy scheme opens

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced a £2m fund for innovative bioenergy projects.

The fund is aimed at bioenergy production from the waste plants grown and cut back for conservation purposes in wetlands. The harvested material is wasted but could be used to produce energy.

Currently, however, more capital is needed for research and to develop demonstration projects, as well as drive innovation and efficiency in areas such as plant harvesting and energy generation systems.

The scheme has three phases: in phase one applicants can be granted up to £50,000 to turn pre-commercial designs into viable project plans, and will be guided by wetland management experts. In phase two, applicants successful in phase one will be chosen to trial their designs, and can be awarded up to £1m. In the final phase, some participants’ products will be selected for further testing, with more funds available.

Designs will be judged on value for money, quality of plans, consideration of conservation issues, and commercial potential by a panel of experts.

According to the Government’s bioenergy strategy published this year, sustainably sourced bioenergy could contribute 8-11% to the UK’s energy by 2020.

Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker said: “As well as providing a valuable habitat for a range of plants and wildlife, our wetland areas produce a diverse mix of clean green energy sources which in many cases are currently going to waste. 

“Our new scheme will help spur on improvements in the way these plants are harvested and used to generate power, helping us cut carbon and meet our renewables targets, whilst maintaining and building on current conservation practices.”

Renewable Energy Association head of policy Paul Thompson said: “This will be welcome news to a number of our members active in this area. There are plenty of opportunities to maximise the use of sustainable biomass from our domestic resources. It also serves as a timely reminder of the unique innovations coming through in this sector.”

Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA) agreed: “Any funding scheme that understands the importance of R&D to developing a mature renewables sector whilst incentivising best use of available resources is a clear step in the right direction.”

But she cautioned: “For government it is also important that bioenergy developments are looked at as whole, and that technologies compared against common criteria – the Bioenergy Strategy provided a framework for this, but more work needs to be done to ensure that comparisons are fair and rigorous.

Jo Gilbert, head of reserves ecology for the RSPB also welcomed the scheme. She told MRW: “The DECC biomass to bioenergy competition provides an excellent opportunity to solve a problem which wetland managers have faced for decades. Wetlands, such as wet grassland, reedbed and fen, need to be managed to stop them from becoming overgrown. This creates a lot of biomass, which is mostly treated as a waste product. 

“We hope that this scheme will develop the process for turning wetland biomass into energy cost effectively and make a significant contribution towards meeting renewable energy targets.”

The £2m scheme is part of the government’s overall fund for low carbon technologies of over £200 from April 2011, as announced in the 2010 budget.

Applications for this scheme should be submitted to DECC online by noon 14 November 2012.

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