Modelling the UK’s bioenergy supply chains, a whole system approach

This week we have a blog from Dr Miao Guo who works in the Centre for Process Systems Engineering here at Imperial College London. Her work is on understanding the potential pathways of producing bioenergy from renewable resources in the UK in the coming decades.

We rely on solar energy for pretty much all of our energy needs. For much of our history that has been through the crops we have grown. Plants use carbon dioxide and water to store the sun’s energy as sugars or carbohydrates that we can eat to release the energy. After millions of years their process of converting sunlight to energy is more efficient than anything we have been able to do. This mean they could be used as a source of sustainable bioenergy to meet the world’s increasing energy demands.

Dr Miao Guo from the Centre for Process Systems Engineering

I am a Research Associate at Centre for Process Systems Engineering, which is part of the Department of Chemical Engineering. I started my time at Imperial as a PhD student in the Department of Life Sciences pursuing modelling research on biodegradable materials. Before I moved to London I studied environmental chemistry for my BSc in Department of Environment & Natural Resources at Renmin University of China.

Wheat StrawMy research focuses on modelling and optimising these bioenergy systems, and looking at the potential environmental impacts of bioenergy supply chains. My research covers both food and non-food biomass used in second (2G) and third generation (3G) bioenergy and biofuel production. 2G covers the direct production of thermal or electrical energy as well as the fuels generated from agricultural waste or woody plants grown specifically for bioenergy (e.g. poplar [1]). 3G involves producing energy or fuel from algae. I am also interested in a range of other biorenewable products that could be derived from these renewable resources, including bio-chemicals and biodegradable and recyclable bio-plastics.

Currently I am pursuing research in Prof Nilay Shah’s group working on a project called Bioenergy value chains: Whole systems analysis and optimisation. This is part of the EPSRC-funded SUPERGEN Bioenergy. The project is being carried out in collaboration with University College London, University of Southampton, Rothamsted Research and University of Manchester. The core of this project is building models and integrating data to lead to cutting edge tools needed to identify robust and promising options for the UK’s bioenergy supply chains.

This project is building on the project partners’ bioenergy system models combined with other models, like the UK-TIMES model and Energy Technologies Institute’s Bioenergy Value Chain Model (ETI-BVCM), as well as international trade models and ecosystem and resource models. The project’s integrated modelling framework aims to determine optimal bioenergy supply chains that best support a technologically efficient, economically viable and low-greenhouse gas UK energy system. My role in the project is to collaborate with partners and extend ETI-BVCM to incorporate new functionalities. These include the addition of resource-competing systems and the effects that the development of bioenergy sector in the UK could have on the wider ecosystem services in the future.

I use a mixed integer linear programming (MILP) modelling approach in my research to extend ETI-BVCM model [2, 3], solve bioenergy value chain optimisation problems and identify the potential trade-offs between conflicting objectives e.g. economic development vs. environmental sustainability and bioenergy provisioning vs. food and feed provisioning. By extending the model we will be able to take into account the non-energy sectors (such as food crops, forage/fodder-fed livestock and timber products), which demand the same productive lands as bioenergy sector and accounts for a wide range of ecosystem servicesusing quantified approach and ecosystem services matrix [4]. The extended optimisation modelling frameworks we are developing can provide valuable insights for policy makers to consider accelerating bioenergy penetration and supporting its sustainable development. The results of the modelling will also feed into a wider policy analysis activity to examine the dynamics of changing system infrastructure between 2010 and 2050.

[1] Guo, M., C. Li, G. Facciotto, S. Bergante, R. Bhatia, R. Comolli, C. Ferré and R. Murphy (2015). “Bioethanol from poplar clone Imola: an environmentally viable alternative to fossil fuel?” Biotechnology for Biofuels 8(1): 1-21. (doi:10.​1186/​s13068-015-0318-8)

[2] Samsatli, S., Samsatli, N. J., & Shah, N. (2015). BVCM: A comprehensive and flexible toolkit for whole system biomass value chain analysis and optimisation – Mathematical formulation. Applied Energy, 147, 131-160. (doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2015.01.078)

[3] ETI. 2015. Overview of the ETI’s Bioenergy Value Chain Model (BVCM) capabilities. In. Energy Technologies Institute.

[4] Holland, R. A., Eigenbrod, F., Muggeridge, A., Brown, G., Clarke, D., & Taylor, G. (2015). A synthesis of the ecosystem services impact of second generation bioenergy crop production. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 46, 30-40. (doi:10.1016/j.rser.2015.02.003)

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