Seven organisations have been awarded a share of an initial £292,000 funding under the first phase of the three-part scheme. The money has been awarded to projects geared towards energy production from wetlands biomass, using plants already grown which would otherwise have gone to waste.
The applicants will receive help and guidance from a group of wetland management experts in the Somerset Levels and Moors and the Broads, Fens and Suffolk coast area to help them get the most out of their designs. They will then be invited to produce more formal project plans, and will be eligible to bid for a share of the remaining £1.7m funding.
There are wetland areas throughout the UK which are maintained to provide habitats for wildlife including wading birds, water voles and warblers. According to the Government's bioenergy strategy, published in October last year, sustainably sourced bioenergy such as that produced from wetlands biomass could fuel around 11% of the UK's energy demands by 2020. However, the strategy sets out the need for more investment to drive innovation in the sector.
"Bioenergy has an important part to play in our energy mix, increasing the amount of power we get from clean, green sources," said energy minister Greg Barker. "But more innovation is needed in this sector, and that's what our wetlands biomass to bioenergy scheme is designed to encourage. It's great to see that seven organisations across Great Britain have come forward with exciting and innovative ideas to drive this forward, and I wish them every success with the development of their plans."
The winning designs were judged by a panel of experts on a range of criteria including value for money, consideration of conservation issues and commercial potential. They included harvesting machinery for fens, rush and reed beds; a system for drying out plants close to the site at which they were harvested and new, innovative energy-generation methods. Winning companies included EcoCZERO, AMW-IBERS and Natural Synergies, while Cranfield University was also awarded over £49,000 in funding.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said that the first tranche of funding was designed to "get pre-commercial design ideas off the drawing board". The organisations will be required to produce a report on their ideas for assessment by a panel of experts at the end of the first phase. Successful organisations at this stage will be invited to bid for a share of the remaining funding to trial project ideas in wetland conditions in Spring 2013, while funding for further testing of designs will be made available under a third and final phase next year.
Earlier this week, the Government announced that it was partnering with seven other EU countries to develop a further scheme to develop innovative bioenergy projects. The UK has pledged up to £10m towards the ERA-NET Plus BESTF scheme, which is intended to drive up to €100m of private investment in projects in the UK, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland and Portugal. Organisations will be invited to put forward project proposals shortly, with grants expected to be made in early 2014.