Biomass fuel

The production of low and zero carbon energy is a key element of the UK Government’s strategy for reducing greenhouse gases. The UK Renewable Energy Strategy sets out to achieve a target of 15% of the UK’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020: almost a seven-fold increase in the share of renewables in scarcely more than a decade.

Reusing previously developed land (PDL) for renewable energy crops offers a unique opportunity to produce carbon-neutral biomass fuels without impacting on food production. The edge-of-urban context of many previously developed sites means that further greenhouse gas reductions are achievable, for example, through the use of organic waste streams diverted from landfill. This adds nutrients to the soil and economic returns through biomass fuels, creating a sustainable alternative to redevelopment.

A range of wider benefits for post-industrial areas will include improvement in the appearance and character of an area plus creating the potential for creating a local source of biomass fuel contributing to community or economic development. A further economic advantage is that the major capital cost of land is avoided compared to using productive agricultural land. Indeed, many contaminated sites have negative asset values reflecting the costs of future remediation, or ongoing maintenance costs, which can be offset provided that adequate growth can be successfully established. Colonizing grass species such as reed canarygrass can temporarily stabilise contaminated soils and prevent dust generation, run-off or groundwater contamination.

Case Study: Rainton Bridge 

Fuel production

The aim of the BioReGen project ( is to demonstrate the feasibility of reusing brownfield sites to grow biomass energy crops at a commercial scale on a variety of contaminated sites. Following successful results in pilot scale field trials in 2004-2006, a series of five 1 ha demonstration sites were established in 2007 with funding from the EU Life III Environment Programme and the Waste and Resources Action Programme.

The site is a 2 hectares vacant area of the Rainton Bridge Industrial Estate. Historic maps indicate that the land was in agricultural use until 1896 when it became a sewage farm until about 1979.

Site preparation included glyphosate spraying, ploughing and disking before amendment with source-segregated green waste compost (PAS100). Energy crops being trialed include: Willow short-rotation coppice (A), Miscanthus (B), reed canarygrass (C), and switchgrass (D).

Site before 2007                                                            Mature biofuel crop, 2008