Biomass Market Assessment Service launched in U.K.

By Scotland’s Rural College | May 08, 2015

Collaboration between Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) and Ecometrica could unlock tens of millions for investment in biomass energy.

Leading agricultural research institution Scotland's Rural College teamed up with sustainability software and data company Ecometrica to de-risk the investment in the U.K. biomass energy industry by combining a powerful computer model with state of the art mapping software that will help fire up the U.K.'s energy crop industry, with potential to unlock tens of millions of pounds of new investment.

The Biomass Market Assessment Service (B-MAS), which launched at All-Energy 2015, Glasgow, on May  6,  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 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. Farmer behavior is a key factor that has been seen as a blockage to successful investment in bioenergy heat and power.

Peter Alexander, the SRUC researcher who developed B-MAS, said, "The behavioral 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 behavioral aspects of farmers’ decisions into a detailed model of this market, for example with farmers being influenced by the action of their neighbors.  This combined with a spatial resolution of 1 kilometer, allows a much more realistic assessment of the future uptake of bioenergy in the U.K. than has previously been possible, which we believe will of significant value to the bioenergy sector.”

B-MAS has been developed by Scotland’s Rural College in association with Ecometrica, with funding from the National Economic Research Council and Innovate U.K. The service brings together SRUC modelling on farmer behavior and crop growth and Ecometrica's spatial content delivery platform.

Richard Tipper, chairman of Ecometrica, said, “The potential market for U.K. 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 U.K., allowing this sustainable and carbon neutral form of energy to develop in the U.K. to its full potential.”

The system will allow potential investors to explore a number of options, taking account of market conditions, energy and agricultural policies, access and cost of raw materials, availability of suppliers and the return on capital, using a range of scenarios. The powerful computer model, which even takes account of possible climate change, will then allow users to assess how the various inter-related factors would affect the outcome of their plans.

B-MAS, which will be available on Ecometrica’s Mapping platform for data distribution, will be maintained and updated to reflect changes impacting the biomass market and in response to user requirements. 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 U.K. only but has the potential to be developed for other countries.