A project to enable more planting of the perennial bioenergy crop, Miscanthus, has been awarded over £3.3 million in funding through the second phase of the government’s Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme.

The funding bid was made by Miscanthus firm, Terravesta, for its OMENZ project –‘Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanisation and data capture to meet Net Zero targets’.

It is hoped that OMENZ will deliver improvements on the entire Miscanthus establishment process, including approaches to producing planting material, field preparation, innovative agri-tech, new planting techniques, and cutting-edge technologies to monitor establishment in the field.

Terravesta’s science and technology director, Dr Michael Squance, commented: “The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget report states that to reach net zero, 700,000 hectares of bioenergy crops need to be planted by 2050 – that’s 30,000 hectares a year starting in 2030.

“The first dedicated, peer reviewed study into Miscanthus life cycles shows that the above ground biomass grows annually and recycles all the carbon that’s been produced through planting, harvesting, and burning the crop for renewable electricity, and at the same time, the underground rhizome and decaying leaf litter fixes and stores net 0.64 tonnes of carbon (2.35 tonnes CO2e) per hectare, each year as it grows,” said Dr Squance.

“The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy is funding projects like ours through the ‘Net Zero Innovation Portfolio’ and it’s our aim to increase the scale and quality of Miscanthus establishment in the UK.

“In Phase 1 of the project, we analysed field preparation, machinery, technology and planting techniques to identify areas which can deliver gains, efficiency and cost reduction. We started Phase 2 of the project in mid-2022 and will trial and develop innovative techniques to improve Miscanthus planting and establishment,” he explained.

Terravesta’s head of R&D, Dr Jason Kam, added: “There are four areas of focus for OMENZ – the first is planting material production preparation, which will improve on the quality of the rhizomes when they come out of the nursery, look at Miscanthus seed development, and test biological treatments and crop nutrition to help the plants to grow better.

“The second focus area is site preparation, where we will look at retaining moisture, reducing tillage and improving soil health. Streamlining planting processes is an exciting part of the project, where agri-tech will be used to plant more crops in a shorter space of time. And lastly, establishment monitoring will test drone agronomy, remote sensing and data capture, to improve crop performance," he said.