Land-based Renewable Energy Speakers

Session 1

An assessment of the wider ecosystem services impacts of bioenergy deployment in the UK - Rob Holland, University of Southampton

Biography: I am an ecologist by training and before taking up my current academic post I worked for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) developing conservation strategies for freshwater species in the face of multiple pressures. As an ecologist and conservation scientist I am interested in understanding how the planet's resources can be used sustainably. My current research focuses on the relationship between human demand for energy and the implications that this has for natural capital and ecosystem services. Key papers have explored the relationship between biodiversity and food security, and how energy demand drives pressures on freshwater resources globally. 

Abstract: Ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from nature. While research suggests that there is a large potential for the deployment of 2G bioenergy feedstocks in the UK, analysis of deployment strategies must incorporate the value of wider ecosystem services to society, acknowledging that many services are in decline or threatened. Here we consider a number of research projects that have examined the relationship between bioenergy and ecosystem services. We demonstrate how knowledge has developed from descriptions of coarse scale relationships [1], to incorporate greater spatial understanding [2,3] allowing the identification of promising routes for deployment. 


1. Holland, R. A. et al. A synthesis of the ecosystem services impact of second generation bioenergy crop production. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 46, 30–40 (2015).

2. Milner, S. et al. Potential impacts on ecosystem services of land use transitions to second-generation bioenergy crops in GB. GCB Bioenergy n/a-n/a (2015). doi:10.1111/gcbb.12263

3. Guo, M. et al. Implementing land-use and ecosystem service effects into an integrated bioenergy value chain optimisation framework. Comput. Chem. Eng. doi:10.1016/j.compchemeng.2016.02.011

Carbon sequestration under perennial energy crops: possible win-wins through novel planting regimes - Goetz Richter, Rothamsted Research

Biography: Dr Goetz Richter holds degrees in Agricultural, Soil and Environmental Science. His expertise in cropping systems analysis is founded on extensive practical and experimental evidence and centred around the development and use of process-based and statistical models. Key papers address the impact of agricultural management on the environment, effects of climate on crop production and climate change mitigation through perennial bioenergy crops. His focus is on up-scaling to the farm, catchment and national level, using scenarios and GIS modelling. Coupling models and remote sensing data (EO satellites, UAV) new information products are being developed for farming, land use planning and policy. He is keen to optimize novel land use forms to exploit whole system’s synergies in a framework of a flourishing, innovative and sustainable bioeconomy.

Abstract: Biofuels from ligno-cellulosic perennial energy crops (short rotation coppice and Miscanthus) have potentially two benefits, a small agronomic carbon (C) footprint and an extra biogenic C storage in the soil. NERC’s LBR-programme allowed us to pursue two major challenges: (i) assessing the soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics under Miscanthus using new δ13C data [1,2] and (ii) estimating the spatial variation of on-farm biomass production. 

Time series of C isotopes show that potential SOC retention rates under Miscanthus reduced from initially <1 to >1.5 Mg C ha-1 y-1 (4-6 years) to about 0.5 Mg C ha-1 y-1 near equilibrium (14-18 years). The net sequestration strongly depends on initial SOC contents, longevity and turnover of new inputs and the immediate and sustained SOC protection under no-till. Model analysis emphasizes the need of clear evidence for initial and successive SOC contents and yield (input) dynamics.  

Our on-farm yield survey revealed a high spatial variability partially explained by soil texture, yields on heavy clay soils being the most variable and producing the largest yield gap. Distribution/outlier frequency of Landsat-5 based NDVI identified highest patchiness in least monitored fields and farms. Scenario and sensitivity analysis confirm on-farm yield/productivity as the key driver for carbon sequestration, calling for industrial action to improve planting quality and close the yield gap.


Algae: nuisance or biofuel resource? - Jagroop Pandhal, University of Sheffield

Biography: Jags Pandhal is a Lecturer in Biological Engineering at the University of Sheffield. He specialises in metabolic and environmental engineering and recently has been developing and evaluating new technologies in regard to their environmental impact and resource recovery. Specific interests include algal biotechnology, biopharmaceuticals, omics and synthetic ecology.

Abstract: Algae are commonly thought of as an environmental hazard caused by the profligacy of human activities. Increasing sewage and industrial waste, together with the threat of climate change induced global warming, are expected to lead to more incidences of mega algal blooms. However, algae are also receiving increased attention as a potential biomass in the bio-based economy. In this presentation, I will discuss the work we have be doing to better understand environmental bloom formation for lessons for the algal biotechnology industry. I will also show the application of a microflotation technique to harvest microalgae and its potential to remediate eutrophic environments as well as recovering multiple resources including fuel.


Socio-economic and environmental impacts of biofuels in southern Africa - Carla Romeu-Dalmau, University of Oxford

Biography: Carla Romeu-Dalmau gained a PhD in Terrestrial Ecology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain). Afterwards, she moved to the University of Oxford (UK) to take a post as a James Martin Research Fellow. Carla’s research examines the impact of agricultural practices on the environment and the society. Specifically, she has worked on several multi-disciplinary projects related to poverty alleviation, ecosystem services, food security, genetically modified crops and biofuels.

Abstract: Biofuel production expanded significantly across southern Africa in the past decade. The two most promoted biofuel crops have been Jatropha (for straight vegetable oil and biodiesel) and sugarcane (for bioethanol). The aim of this interdisciplinary project is to understand the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of biofuel expansion in southern Africa. To gain this knowledge, we carefully selected five case studies in Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland, which reflect the main feedstocks (Jatropha and sugarcane) and scales of feedstock cultivation (smallholder schemes and industrial plantations) encountered across the region. Through a range of methods including remote sensing, biomass, soil and households surveys, we provide data on the impact these projects had on land use change, human well-being, and several ecosystem services.


Session 2

Biochar effects on soil biodiversity and carbon cycling in temperate agricultural soils - Adam Vanbergen, Centre for Hydrology and Ecology

Biography: Adam leads invertebrate ecology research at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (Edinburgh). He takes an empirical approach underpinned by taxonomic expertise and statistical modelling to understand the role of invertebrate interactions and diversity in ecosystem function and their response to global environmental changes. Invertebrates are integral to many ecosystem services, such as pollination, soil function and pest control, Adam seeks to advance mechanistic understanding of the effects of environmental change on invertebrate species and the services they provide across ecosystems and from host-plant to landscape scales. Adam is also currently a lead author on two assessments of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and is a Trustee and Honorary Secretary of the British Ecological Society (BES).

Abstract: Biochar is a carbon-rich residue produced from the oxygen-limited pyrolysis  of organic matter. These residues represent a pool of captured carbon that can be sequestered in soils to mitigate rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. However, the addition of biochar drives physical and chemical changes to the soil habitat which may impact on soil biodiversity and functions. In this talk we highlight results from experiments showing the effects of biochar on a range of soil taxa, including both microbes and invertebrates, and on soil ecosystem CO2 fluxes.  We conclude with some key messages about the utility of this eco-engineering approach in temperate plant-soil systems. 


Working with stakeholders to identify and resolve conflicts between wind energy and bat conservation - Fiona Mathews University of Exeter 

Biography: Fiona Mathews is Associate Professor of Mammalian Biology at the University of Exeter. She has led the only national evaluation of the impacts of wind turbines on bats in the world.  This work pioneered innovative techniques including the use of search dogs to identify bat carcasses, and acoustic monitoring of bats from the nacelle of wind turbines.  She is part of the EUROBATS advisory committee on wind farms, that provides evidence-based guidance to European Nations and Range States and is currently working closely with the Statutory Nature Conservation Organisations to derive pragmatic and effective strategies to minimise the impacts of wind turbines on bats. She also works on bat migration and is reviewing the evidence of the likely impacts of offshore turbines on bat movements between the UK and Europe.

Abstract: Bat fatalities at wind energy installations have caused international concern.  Bats are of high conservation status and therefore impacts on local populations are a material consideration for developers, local authorities and Statutory Nature Conservation Organisations (SNCOs).  Funded by a consortium of partners, including NERC, we have therefore studied the effects of turbines on bats at 46 onshore wind farms, and a further 30 single wind turbines.  Bat carcasses were located using trained search dogs, and bat activity was recorded using acoustic detectors placed in the turbine nacelle and at ground level.  Fatality rates were highly variable: no casualties were found at approximately a third of sites, whilst a small number had casualty rates sufficiently high to generate concern for local populations.  Prediction of casualties on the basis of habitat type proved difficult: indeed high casualty rates were sometimes found at upland moorland sites that would generally be considered to be of low suitability for bats.  Similarly, whilst low bat activity was associated with a low casualty risk, at sites with moderate or high activity collision risks were highly variable.  However, there was a clear link between wind speed and the risk to bats, with most fatalities occurring on nights of low wind speed.  Curtailment strategies are therefore being explored with stakeholders, including the option of minimising blade rotation below the wind cut-in speed for energy generation – an approach that would minimises the impact on operators whilst delivering conservation benefits.   We are working with the SNCOs to produce evidence-based guidance for the monitoring of wind energy installations; and we have developed an interactive website to allow the acoustic data collected by ecological consultants at wind turbine sites to be evaluated in a consistent and transparent way.


Peatland landscape response to hosting wind energy installation - Susan Waldron, University of Glasgow

Biography: Prof. Susan Waldron holds a Chair in Biogeochemistry at the University of Glasgow and leads the Carbon Landscape Research Group (, funded by NERC, EPSRC, SSER & SNH. A geologist by training, her research has focussed on carbon and macronutrient cycles particularly in using isotopic tracers and continuously-logged hydrochemical measurements to understand transfer of C and macronutrients from terrestrial to aquatic systems. A key focus of recent research has been to investigate Earth surface environmental resilience to anthropogenic disturbance and drivers of change. Such research has taken place in systems where the interaction of the terrestrial and fluvial system is crucially important, systems that are both sensitive C sinks e.g. the Amazon rainforest, and disturbed sites e.g. oil palm plantations, logged swamp forests and wind farms. 

Abstract: Carbon landscapes represent a significant northern hemisphere natural resource, particularly in terms of terrestrial carbon sequestration and storage. However, in the UK, the sites that maximise C storage (peatlands) are also locations that are the best for wind energy generation. Thus, to serve societal needs of energy provision, the anthropogenic activity exerting greatest pressure on UK peatlands currently is their role in hosting wind farms.  This pressure has precipitated research activity in considering the impacts of wind farms on the environment, but there has been little research on how the peatland functions when hosting a wind farm. Research activity since 2006 on three different wind farms sites on peatlands has been considered both the impact of the wind farm on C losses (to the drainage system) and on the functioning of the peatland once hosting the wind farm, including whether the windfarm creates a micoclimate. Here we will share the findings of this research.


EnergyScapes and Ecosystem Services - David Howard, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Biography: David Howard is the Director of Lancaster Environment Centre’s Centre for Sustainable Energy.  He has worked for the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) for over quarter of a century working on a variety of projects on land use and energy.  From the 1980s he was at the core of the team managing the Countryside Surveys (CS), Britain’s assessment of the state and change of its rural environment.  He used CS data to look at a variety of energy systems (wood energy, wind, hydro, nuclear, traditional fossil fuels) and their impacts (including carbon sequestration/inventory, critical loads of atmospheric deposition and land take).

David worked on European projects that looked at the economics of energy (including ExternE).  Once the problems of the energy system were acknowledged (environmental damage, security of supply, innovation for economic growth and poverty reduction) David became one of the founding Directors of the UK Energy Research Centre; he led the theme of Environmental Sustainability which included bioenergy.  He also was on the Board of Governors of the Joule Centre.  He held a NERC Knolwedge Exchange Fellowship fousing on environmental monitoring and has led a number of projects including Energyscapes and Ecosystem Services that has examined the whole system impact of changes to our energy system.

Abstract: The drive for sustainable energy production is leading to increased deployment of land based renewables. Although there is public support, in principle, for renewable energy at a national level, major resistance to renewable energy technologies often occurs at a local level. Within this context, it can be useful to consider the “energyscape” which we initially define as the complex spatial and temporal combination of the supply, demand and infrastructure for energy within a landscape. By starting with a consideration of the energyscape, we can then consider the positive and negative interactions with other ecosystem services within a particular landscape. This requires a multi-disciplinary systems-approach that uses existing knowledge of landscapes, energy options, and the different perspectives of stakeholders. The approach is examined in relation to pilot case-study comprising a 155 km2 catchment in Bedfordshire, England. 


Session 3

Understanding the variability and predictability of wind power - Daniel Drew, University of Reading

Biography: Daniel holds a BSc in Physics and Meteorology and an MSc in Renewable Energy both from the University of Reading. He stayed at the University for his PhD which analysed the performance of small wind turbines in urban areas (in collaboration with Imperial College London). During this time he developed a model to assess the variability of the wind resource across a city taking into account the urban morphology. Since then he has been working as a postdoctoral research assistant, funded by National Grid, assessing the challenges posed by the planned future expansion of offshore wind capacity. 

Abstract: With growing dependence on renewable electricity, much of which is weather dependent, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the impacts of weather and climate on the energy sector. The Energy Meteorology research group at the University of Reading draws upon the state-of-the-art meteorological tools (including numerical weather prediction and global circulation models) to understand the variability and predictability of wind power, solar PV and electricity demand over a range of spatiotemporal resolutions. We are working with energy-sector stakeholders to explore how this information can be used to manage energy-sector risk on timescales from hours and days to years and decades. This talk focuses on the variability of wind power in Great Britain and how it affects the behaviour of the power system.


Developing a Lab-scale method for measuring biogas potential from microalgae - Matt Davey, University of Cambridge and Brenda Parker, UCL

Biography: Dr Matt Davey is a plant and algal physiologist and chemical ecologist at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. His key interests are in understanding the diversity of metabolism in natural ecosystems and controlled environments and how such knowledge can be translated for innovation purposes by collaborating with industrial partners involved in bioenergy and natural high value products.

He specialises in advanced metabolite profiling, a process known as metabolomics and is currently working on the EU INTERREG EnAlgae programme and collaborating with the British Antarctic Survey to study the growth and chemical composition of terrestrial algae and other plants within the Antarctic environment.

Dr Brenda Parker is a Biochemical Engineer. Her doctoral studies investigated how directed evolution for could be applied to alter substrate specificity in biocatalysis. For the last six years she has been working on applied algal research, beginning at the University of Cambridge with a project funded by Royal Dutch Shell to investigate enzymatic downstream processing of microalgae using a bioinspired approach. Since then, Brenda has worked at the interface of academia and industry on two major EU-funded research projects: the Innovation InCrops Network and the Energetic Algae project. She is currently a lecturer in the Department of Biochemical Engineering at University College London.

In 2013 Brenda co-authored the NERC/Innovate UK Roadmap for Algal Technologies. She has also provided consultancy for a wide range of companies such as AB Sugar, Cambridge Water, SITA and LooWatt. Her expertise includes developing process flowsheets, investigating industrial symbiosis or evaluating commercial potential of biorefinery projects.

Brenda’s approach is highly interdisciplinary, and Brenda has collaborated with architecture firms and designers to realise projects such as the Algaegarden for the Metis International Garden Festival in Quebec, along with installations in London for Secret Cinema, FARM:shop and CityLab.

Abstract: Research into using microalgae for the bioremediation of waste streams, for example those from tertiary waste water treatment, has been gaining momentum in the UK. However, if biomass is not suitable for the food chain, generating bioenergy via codigestion with other feedstocks is a possible route. The University of Cambridge partners are currently involved in ecosystem service research that involves using by-products from drinking water purification to grow algae, and this project seeks to "close the loop" on nutrient retrieval.  In the context of this project, microalgae is playing a provisioning role, generating bioenergy, and converting nutrients into a useable form, which will play a vital role in contributing to the bioeconomy market in the UK.  Bioenergy from algae, in particular from anaerobic digeston (AD), is seen as a potential feedstock to support our sustainable energy mix.  Anaero have devised a scale-down version of an anaerobic digester, capable of running 15 experiments in parallel. This enables valuable data on potential biogas yields to be generated, and for the effect of combinations of feedstocks to be explored more rapidly.  The Biomethane Potential equipment developed by Anaero was used to evaluate three types of algae and maize, the most widespread energy crop in AD. The tests confirm that the anaerobic digestion of algae biomass is a possible route of utilisation of algae biomass.


Best-practice for research on energy and the environment: lessons learned from hydropower - Gary Bilotta, Aquatic Research Centre, University of Brighton

Biography: Dr Gary Bilotta is a Principal Lecturer in Physical Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Brighton. He is also Head of the multi-million pound Aquatic Research Centre. Dr Bilotta’s primary research links the disciplines of hydrology, geomorphology, and freshwater ecology, in order to provide evidence to improve the sustainability of the provision of water, food and energy, whilst protecting the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Dr Bilotta’s secondary research examines the ways in which policy-makers and researchers can improve the scientific evidence base and its use in decision making. This work has recently led to the publication of peer-reviewed articles co-authored by the Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, and colleagues within the Evidence Directorate at the Environment Agency.

Abstract: In his first major public speech on becoming the UK government's Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport stated that "difficult issues need to be viewed through multiple lenses". Meeting the UK's ambitious emission reduction targets to limit climate change is one such example of a difficult issue that requires 'multiple lenses' or knowledge exchange between stakeholders in order to find the most environmentally- and socially- sustainable solutions. All forms of energy generation have environmental impacts and affect stakeholders in different ways, but these are not always compared consistently in an open, systematic and transparent manner. This talk will describe and explain what scientists and researchers can do to address these issues, through providing robust policy-relevant evidence to help inform the development of renewable technologies and the evolution of energy policy. The recommendations cover aspects of study design required to improve primary research, aspects of evidence review to improve secondary research, the need to consider a range of relevant environmental and social footprints, and the need for life-cycle comparisons between different energy sources. These recommendations arise from recent research conducted as part of NERC Policy Placements with (i) Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor, and (ii) The Evidence Directorate at the Environment Agency. The latter providing some useful and relevant illustrations of the types of evidence-challenges surrounding renewable energy.