Short rotation coppice (SRC) willows are of interest as a perennial bioenergy crop. SRC willows are grown as a source of renewable biomass fuel for heat and power. We are also exploring its utility as a source of high value compounds for various chemical and pharmaceutical industries. A SRC willow breeding programme based at Rothamsted uses the collection to breed elite varieties of SRC willow. When grown in SRC plantations, willows are particularly suited to meeting the challenge of providing low-carbon alternatives because they:
- can be grown on land less suited to food production
- produce high yields with low inputs (e.g. rain fed, low nitrogen fertilisers and agrochemicals)
- use more of the growing season and produce less waste (all the above ground crop is used)
- result in high energy savings and greenhouse gas reductions
- don’t require annual cultivation and planting each year
- sequester carbon in soils
- support more biodiversity than annual crops.
At Rothamsted Research, we are using genetics, DNA markers and advanced DNA sequencing technologies to identify genes influencing growth and resistance to pests, diseases and drought, and that regulate biochemical pathways, to accelerate breeding of willows for bioenergy, biofuels and bio-based products for the bioeconomy.
Rothamsted is also a project partner of Biomass Connect, a BEIS funded program aimed at increasing production of sustainable UK biomass feedstocks.