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More than food or fuel: AD and land use

How do stakeholders inside and outside the AD industry view the use of crops for AD? That’s the subject of a new report from Mirjam Röder, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Mirjam has a degree in agricultural sciences and has a PhD researching meal security in urban areas in central Sudan using a cultural ecological approach.  She has also worked on a number of projects looking at bioenergy supply chains and energy from rice.

Mirjam’s latest article provides an interesting analysis of how stakeholders who are either affected by decisions or can affect decisions in the bioenergy sector. It analyses responses from and their perceptions of the drivers, benefits and challenges. The report can be found here.

Summary of the report

As we know, AD is a growing technology with increasing demand for land to produce purpose grown crops for AD. This demand is set to increase to about 1% by 2020. AD is becoming more and more important in the bioenergy sector, as a key technology to help the UK meet its energy and climate change targets. Although beneficial to these goals, some commentators have questioned whether it is leading to undue competition for land for food crops.

Prior to this report little attention has been paid to the social impact of AD projects, with more focus on the financial and environmental considerations. Despite the fact that AD projects are environmentally, economically and technologically viable there seems to be a disconnect between AD and perceptions from general public.

The Results

The study split its results into four specific areas; drivers, benefits, challenges and land use perception.

Drivers and benefits look at:

  • Enterprise focus; specific business interest which affects the enterprise or personal economic outcome.
  • Environmental focus; external effect supporting and benefiting the directly involved community or wider society.
  • Community focus; external effect supporting and benefiting the directly involved community or wider society.

Challenges looks at:

  • Feedstock supply and knowledge; relates to feedstock properties, supply chain processes/activities and knowledge about feedstock and processes.
  • Community interface; interactions between stakeholders and stakeholder groups.
  • Policy and regulations; protocols, regulations, incentives along the AD supply chain.

Key findings

The study asked stakeholders to rank key drivers, benefits and challenges by their perception of impact. The study found that income generation is the most important driver, followed by generation of renewable energy and waste management. The main benefits from AD is diversification of the farm business through integration of purpose grown crops and waste feed. A majority of the challenges are related to aspects of social institutional frameworks and relationships between groups and individuals, such as policy uncertainties and degression of tariffs, rather than technology and operational processes.

Conclusions and policy implications

The key findings from the study indicate that if the UK were to use purpose grown crops for AD and produced a monoculture system replacing other crops; the risk of changing agricultural practices & using large areas of land to grow purpose grown crops is viewed as low. Attention will need to be paid to how the feedstock market will develop to reach the increasing demand for purpose grown crops and how this will impact land use. This should occur in a manner which looks at the breadth of agricultural systems rather than land use on its own. This could be achieved through considering synergies between bioenergy and agriculture.

The AD industry needs a clear future role in the bioenergy, bioeconomy and farming sector. The AD sectors’ demand for purpose grown crops and subsequent land use should not be over simplified into a single system. It should be considered in a wider view of market development, social, institutional and policy framework, specific scale and location of the given agricultural system.

If you know of any other areas of interest, which you feel maybe of interest to ADBA members and visitors to the website please email emma.thomas@adbioresources.org and we will aim to review and post relevant work to the ADBA website. 

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