Scotland’s Rural College launches new tool to forecast supply of fuel to £1.6bn biomass energy market

Bioenergy biomass  fuel picBy DARA BUTTERFIELD

Ecometrica, an IT company, has teamed up with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to produce a new software suite set to more accurately forecast supply of fuel to the £1.6 billion British biomass energy market.

The Biomass Market Assessment Service (B-MAS) provides power companies and potential investors in bioenergy supply with information on the future take-up and supply of bioenergy crops under different pricing and policy scenarios.

The software aims to de-risk the investment in the UK biomass energy industry by combining a powerful computer model with state of the art mapping software.

Farmer behaviour is a key factor that has been seen as a blockage to successful investment in bioenergy heat and power.

Dr Richard Tipper, Chairman, Ecometrica, explained: “The potential market for UK biomass is estimated at around £1.6 billion by 2020, but investment in biomass power plants is being held back because of uncertainty over whether farmers will produce enough bioenergy crops.

“By providing sophisticated models of farmer behaviour and crop production under different scenarios, B-MAS will de-risk investment decisions and, therefore, improve confidence in the supply chain. It will be used to inform the location and size of biomass plants in the UK, allowing this sustainable and carbon neutral form of energy to develop in the UK to its full potential.”

Ecometrica claims that the software has the potential to unlock tens of millions of pounds of new investment. The underlying modelling system, which runs on the University of Edinburgh’s high performance computing infrastructure, helps de-risk the decision-making process for new investments in heat and power plants by identifying areas where farmers are likely to respond positively to demands for energy crops such as short-rotation coppice and miscanthus.

Peter Alexander, the SRUC researcher who developed B-MAS, said: “The behavioural aspects of farmers’ decision making are fundamentally important to how new markets like that for bioenergy crops develop. Often it is assumed that it will just happen if it is economically viable, but the reality is more complex.

“For the first time we have brought the behavioural aspects of farmers’ decisions into a detailed model of this market, for example with farmers being influenced by the action of their neighbours. This allows a much more realistic assessment of the future uptake of bioenergy in the UK than has previously been possible, which we believe will of significant value to the bioenergy sector.”

Clients are expected to include utilities, investors in renewable energy, agri-consultants and other players in the biomass market. The service is initially being offered in the UK only but has the potential to be developed for other countries.

SRUC’s research and education activities operate from six campuses and eight farms and research centres across Scotland.

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