Memorandum from the Biotechnology and
Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to the House of Commons
Science and Technology Committee Inquiry
RENEWABLE ENERGY-GENERATION TECHNOLOGIES
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.
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
Multidisciplinary Programme Grants
with Industrial Collaboration
Bioenergy Networks to build UK Research
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
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
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.