Tackling the complex issue of UK-based biomass fuel production, a thesis by Rural Energy’s graduate employee Leah Radford has been named best in the country by the Royal British Geographical Society.
Focusing on the development of perennial energy crops, such as miscanthus and short rotation coppice, the thesis was judged within the Energy Geographies Working Group category and was praised for showing true originality and academic excellence.
Leah, who received a first class degree in Geography from Lancaster University, has been working with Rural Energy since July 2014 as part of the company’s graduate internship programme. She chose the thesis subject after reading DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) figures that suggested the UK has significant potential to develop a self-sufficient perennial biomass fuel supply.
DEFRA claims that 350,000 hectares of arable land could potentially be set aside for these rapid-yield crops (micanthus is harvested annually and short rotation coppice every three to five years), which would provide a major source of domestically grown fuel.
Her research combined in depth interviews with local farmers and Geographical Information Systems assessment of existing crops, watercourses, natural habitats, available land and a variety of other criteria. The results identified several challenges but also potential areas for development, such as the generation of community-scale markets, with numerous local producers working as a co-operative.
Leah Radford commented: I was really interested in looking into the figures a bit more closely and finding out if the UK really can develop a renewable fuel supply that would meet our complete biomass energy needs. I’m overwhelmed at the response to my research and I’m looking forward to applying all the insight I’ve gained to my internship at Rural Energy. I’ve been enjoying using the skills I’ve learned to problem solve in my new role, for example I find it really interesting trying to retro fit the fuel store and boiler into pre-existing buildings and I like seeing all the components come to together into a complete system.
Leah has been involved in several live projects with Rural Energy, including phase one of a major contract to design, install and maintain nine biomass heating systems for a key county council client.
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