Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Annex A

Memorandum from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Inquiry


The current state of UK research and development in, and the deployment of, renewable energy-generation technologies including: offshore wind; photovoltaics; hydrogen and fuel cell technologies; wave; tidal; bioenergy; ground source heat pumps: and intelligent grid management and energy storage

  1.  BBSRC's scientific remit dictates that the renewable energy research funded by BBSRC is exclusively in bioenergy, including the biological generation of hydrogen. Bioenergy is a high priority area for BBSRC. Its importance was recognised in 2005 when BBSRC conducted a review of bioenergy research, chaired by Professor Douglas Kell. The aims of the review were to examine the main drivers for bioenergy research in the UK, to consider BBSRC's role within this context, and to identify priorities for future BBSRC research activities. The review report was published in March 2006 and is published on the BBSRC website. The findings of the review are being used to inform BBSRC's activities in preparation of its CSR2007 Delivery Plan.

Bioenergy Initiative

  2.  As a result of the Review, BBSRC launched an Initiative in Capacity-Building in Bioenergy Research in March 2007, with up to £20M available to support high quality applications. The Initiative seeks to create greater research capacity in the UK by encouraging collaborative research between biologists and engineers, physical scientists and researchers in social and environmental sciences. The Bioenergy Initiative has three funding streams:

    —  A Multidisciplinary Bioenergy Research Centre

    —  Multidisciplinary Programme Grants with Industrial Collaboration

    —  Bioenergy Networks to build UK Research Capacity

  3.  The Bioenergy Centre is planned to provide a focus for UK bioenergy research, and involve a variety of research, from the molecular level, through systems-based basic and applied research. Researchers from a variety of disciplines will be required to work together on complex areas of bioenergy research.

  4.  Programme grants for longer-scale interdisciplinary research will help to build capacity by bringing together staff with different skills, retraining existing staff and employing postdoctoral scientists in a multidisciplinary environment. Industrial input is encouraged strongly to translate the research into usable energy sources.

  5.  Networking activities are felt to be important to bring new groups into the field and to provide cohesion for the existing bioenergy research community.

  6.  Expressions of interest for all three funding streams have been received and will be sifted by a review panel, and full applications will be invited later in 2007. These will be subject to full peer review.

Current BBSRC Funding for Bioenergy Research

  7.  BBSRC funds bioenergy research through several mechanisms in addition to the Bioenergy Initiative. BBSRC-sponsored Institutes receive a core strategic grant from BBSRC and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) and Rothamsted Research (RRes) use part of this funding to support long-term programmes on the genetics and improvement of energy crops for energy generation from biomass.

  8.  BBSRC also funds research through responsive mode, on a variety of aspects of plant and microbial science, as well as studies on photosynthesis and carbon allocation within plants and microbes, and microbial conversion of feedstocks to useful products, including fuels. BBSRC also funds studentships in aspects of bioenergy research.

  9.  Societal and Environmental Considerations. BBSRC is keen to ensure that the research it funds in bioenergy takes account of societal, ethical, environmental and economic issues. The `food vs fuel' debate has been in the public eye recently, and the environmental impact of converting large amounts of land to biomass generation needs to be considered. BBSRC is keen to ensure that there is expertise in these issues on the panel for its Bioenergy Initiative, and besides supporting the RELU-Biomass project it has been involved in several meetings and consultations on this subject.

The UK Government's role in funding research and development for renewable energy-generation technologies and providing incentives for technology transfer and industrial research and development

  10.  The UK Government has a key role in funding the development of a variety of energy technologies, through the research councils as well as DEFRA, DTI, Department for Transport and other agencies. BBSRC funding is essential to support the fundamental biological research required to underpin biofuel development. BBSRC funding will also be essential to support the interdisciplinary research required to translate biological knowledge into useable technologies and products.

  11.  BBSRC provides a variety of incentives for industrial participation in its research, including the Industrial Partnership Award scheme and LINK programmes. However, it is only able to support research falling within its remit, and is not able to fund near-market research, so other sources of Government funding are required to provide sufficient incentives for industry to participate in the whole portfolio of research required to deliver BBSRC's objectives in bioenergy.

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