Biomass value chains and the environment-food-energy-water nexus: whole-systems analysis and optimisation

Project: Research-related funding


Biomass has the potential to provide access to a sustainable supply of resources such as energy, chemicals and materials. Since the production of biomass (i.e. plant matter such as forestry, agricultural crops and residues) requires a large amount of land and water; it competes with food production and affects the ecosystem (e.g. deforestation, water pollution, natural habitat loss). There is a delicate balance between all of these elements; together, these are known as the environment-food-energy-water nexus. All of the benefits associated with biomass use to meet our energy requirements and other needs must be considered along with its potential impact to the nexus. Therefore, it is important not only to understand how best to exploit the great potential of biomass but also to understand the detailed interactions among all of the elements in the nexus.

In this project, the many different possibilities for producing energy and high-value products from biomass that also maintain the balance in the nexus will be explored. To understand the potential for growing biomass, detailed existing land map use and soil quality; water availability, quality and tolerance to contamination; and climate projections (temperature and rainfall) will be used. Different processing facilities that convert the biomass to energy and other chemicals will be examined; then a comprehensive database of these, including a site suitability analysis, will be developed. Thus, a detailed and rich representation of the influence on the whole of the nexus by the types and location of biomass grown and the types, products and location of technologies used. An optimisation model will then be developed to determine the combinations of crops grown and technologies used to convert biomass to energy and high-value products, thus forming a biomass value chain, that provide the greatest benefit with the lowest impact on the nexus. Using the model, the efficient and robust value chains that have the most favourable synergy with the nexus and high potential for deployment over a wide range of scenarios with different combinations of key indicators and constraints for socio-economic and environmental performance will be identified.

To date, there is little or no similar research in the Philippines; it will fill the knowledge gap in large-scale systems analysis for the sustainable implementation of the biomass value chain in the country. Moreover, its main added value to the Philippine social welfare and development is that it can be a guide in policy-making in lieu of the growing importance of biomass in the Philippine energy mix. When realised, a well-planned biomass production and utilisation on the national level, has the potential to generate more development in the rural areas, to gain savings from infrastructure development, to guarantee sustainably secure energy supply and to mitigate climate change; while, amidst these, the balance of the nexus is protected.

Layman's description

PhD studentship funding from the British Council and Commission of Higher Education Philippines for Mr Stephen Salve Doliente
Short title £139,057
Effective start/end date31/05/1830/05/21