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The Genetic Improvement of Miscanthus as a Sustainable Feedstock for Bioenergy in the UK - NF0446

Description
Biomass derived energy contributes to the global effort to provide renewable zero carbon energy. Low input perennial energy crops particularly the giant grass Miscanthus (and willow) will be an essential part of the mix of raw materials needed for producing bioenergy. Energy crops also provide an important option for farmers with environmental benefits such as reduction in carbon footprint, better water quality and increased biodiversity. Miscanthus is well-suited to marginal lands as it has low requirements for nutrients as a result of efficient recycling of nutrients from above ground biomass to below ground rhizomes in the autumn and winter with harvest of above ground biomass in late winter or early spring. There will also be large employment opportunities in the wider supply chain. Apart from the jobs created by most renewable technologies in the construction phase, it is estimated that in the operation phase there are 6.5 jobs per MW for biomass compared to 0.1 for wind and 0.5 for photovoltaics (Energy Savings Trust, 2007).

This project will contribute towards the delivery of new varieties of Miscanthus which maximise the sustainable net energy yield per hectare in a wide range of conditions in the UK particularly marginal lands.Our aim is to double the yields of Miscanthus by 2020. This is physiologically realisable with the use of appropriate germplasm, the use of precision breeding using the association between molecular markers and phenotypic traits and drawing on underpinning (see Benefits and output section). Increased yield will have a major impact on the economics of Miscanthus in terms of returns per hectare and produce an incentive to the growing of Miscanthus without the need for planting grants to support the initial establishment of the crop.

Large scale Miscanthus breeding work in the UK began with the DEFRA NF0426 project (‘The genetic improvement of Miscanthus for biomass’) in 2004 as a result of an open competition. This project was initiated by Dr. John Valentine, head of the non forage crops team at IGER. The project was led by Dr. John Clifton Brown (IGER) in conjunction with Dr. Oene Dolstra in Plant Research International (PRI) in the Netherlands. IBERS, formerly IGER, are world renowned for grass and clover breeding research and bringing successful varieties to market. The DEFRA Miscanthus breeding programme has benefited enormously from the expertise rich environment of IBERS and PRI and their mature facilities. In 2008 the Miscanthus breeding programme became part of the new division `Bio-renewables and Environmental Change` led by Dr. Iain Donnison. Expertise on energy crop biology, fermentation and environmental change are being brought together with Miscanthus breeding to provide a unique research platform spanning biomass production to utilisation.

The NF0426 project established a robust breeding pipeline based on
1. Well defined protocols for phenotyping and evaluation of Miscanthus germplasm.
2. Two years of mature phenotype data for yield and quality traits on 248 genotypes.
3. In house crossing techniques and intelligent strategies based on trait data to make key crosses.
4. ~3500 seedlings produced in 2004 and 2005 have given leads to identifying some key parental combinations in 2008.
5. A further ~3500 seedlings in the spaced plant field trials which were too young to evaluate.
6. Recurrent selection strategies at PRI which have paved the way to developing wild source germplasm to elite breeders lines with predictable results.
7. Small plot trials of 150 selections from spaced plant evaluations.

The NF0436 project ‘Accession of CBD compliant Miscanthus and Triarrhena germplasm from China, Japan and Taiwan for incorporation in the UK Miscanthus breeding programme’ expanded NF0426 through addition of 100 novel accessions, some with exceptional yield traits, collected in Asia in 2006. These accessions are now progressing towards field trait analysis.

This extension project is needed to maintain and develop the breeding pipeline in terms of
1. Initiate field trait assessment of new genetic resources on marginal land.
2. Perform targeted crosses based on existing phenotypic information and improved methods of obtaining triploid interspecific hybrids.
3. Select from ~2000 3-yr old progeny from crosses made in 2006 and promote outstanding selections to plots.
4. Identify and clone two mapping family for the development of molecular markers from crosses made in 2008 between parents with diverse yield traits.
Objective
7. (b) Objectives


The new work will build on the previous project at IBERS and PRI with the ultimate aim of developing varieties of Miscanthus for sustainable production of biomass for energy production on marginal land.

The technical and scientific aim of the project is to increase the efficiency of primary production in terms of significant increased yield with suitable bio-conversion quality. This will have a major effect on the economics and life cycle analysis of production of Bioenergy from Miscanthus as well as the reducing the risk of genetic vulnerability resulting from only three clones of M. x giganteus being used commercially. The objectives, approaches and work plan can be visualised in terms of a breeding pipeline consisting of the assessment of genetic resources, hybridization, and preliminary assessment of selections. Multi-site trials and commercialisation are separate steps which will need to be addressed outside the current project.


The objectives are

1. Initiate field trait assessment of new genetic resources on marginal land.

2. Perform targeted crosses based on existing phenotypic information.

3. Select from 2070 3-yr old progeny from crosses made in 2006 and promote outstanding selections to plots.

4. Identify and clone two genetically diverse mapping families for the development of molecular markers from crosses made in 2008 between parents with diverse yield traits.
Project Documents
• Final Report : The Genetic Improvement of Miscanthus as a Sustainable Feedstock for Bioenergy in the UK.   (301k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2009

To: 2011

Cost: £310,099
Contractor / Funded Organisations
IBERS, Plant Research International
Keywords
Agriculture and Climate Change              
Bioenergy              
Biofuels              
Biomass Crops              
Biomass technologies              
Genetics              
Livestock              
Sustainable Farming and Food Science