We are fast approaching the season of Christmas, celebration and good will, and our inboxes have been overflowing with Black Friday deals to tempt us into buying stuff for friends, family, or just ourselves, which will turn up tomorrow, from somewhere, without our having to fight our way into our fading high streets to find that the item wanted is out of stock. Unlike most other species, we are a species of hoarders and accumulators of “stuff” – from items and artefacts that we rely on to live, to creature comforts and life’s luxuries and indulgences.
This “stuff” of life is important in making us what we are. It creates employment and wealth to support our expanding population. Going back to a feudal pre-industrial era is not the solution. For a start, the global population is now too large, and secondly, life under such conditions was hard, miserable, and very short for the majority. The changes of the last 250 years – a relatively short time in the history of our species – have undoubtedly benefitted mankind, today giving us the expectation of longer, healthier, happier lives and unleashing the creative ingenuity to achieve incredible things. However, we have achieved this through the exploitation of other sentient dwellers on our planet, as well as of the fabric of the planet itself, creating a knock-on spiral of unintended consequences falling collectively under the titles of “Climate Change” and “Environment.”
Such were the subjects of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change, ratified in 1994, with an annual Conference of the Parties ever since, except last year’s COP26 was postponed to this year due to COVID. The last landmark COP was COP21, in Paris, that produced the legally binding “Paris Agreement,” which included a Ratcheting up of commitments condition every 5 years. It is this condition that makes COP26, in Glasgow this year, so internationally significant. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that hosting this landmark COP has drawn so much of the UK government’s attention over the last 12 months.
From this has sprung a string of initiatives and research grants, initiated by BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), led substantially by the pathway predictions outlined in the CCC 6th Carbon Budget referred to in my Christmas message last year. Some of this, I am delighted to say, has been for the benefit of Terravesta.
So what does all of this have to do with “Stuff?” The answer is this; achieving the changes that world science agrees as essential, to limit global warming to below 2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100 (let alone to below the target 1.5 Celsius), is going to involve participation from all of us in our day-to-day choices and lifestyles. Just “going without” is not going to attract that mass buy-in, and neither will it generate the economic drive that will be essential to fund the transfer to new sustainable products and technologies. It, therefore, has to become incumbent on our industries to present consumers with the right (sustainable) choices, but to make sure they do so, we all need to challenge them by asking the right questions, and through our product selection – consumer power!
To this end, all sorts of technologies and sustainable opportunities were being showcased at COP26. In the agricultural sector, JCB was revealing hydrogen-powered loaders and tractors, for example, while the debate around land use and land-use change has been hot all year. DEFRA has also announced the Soils Strategy as the first phase of the new Sustainable Farming Incentive, for which perennial crops, such as Miscanthus, achieve so many of the intended outcomes.
The government used COP26 to launch its Biomass Policy Statement, an interim report to the Biomass Strategy, due to be published in late 2022. This sets out short-, medium- and long-term biomass technology pathways and sets out a direction against which perennial energy crop area can be expanded, and a hierarchy of best uses.
In terms of CCUS (Carbon Capture, Usage, and Storage), the government announced a commitment to, and funding towards, the development of the HyNet (North West England) and East Coast (Teesside and Humberside) Clusters, to enable carbon capture from industry and energy production (Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture & Storage, BECCS).
The exciting thing is that Miscanthus can play a role in so many of these new, sustainable product streams, beyond simply being burned to generate electricity (definitely only a short-term technology in the Biomass Policy Statement!). That presence, though, may be more subtle than we can physically see and touch. Terravesta has been a partner in the €15million, 21 partners, BBI-JU funded GRACE Project since 2017, demonstrating bioeconomic supply chains: www.grace-bbi.eu.
A table of those chains is given above. My Christmas challenge to you is to go online and see how many different products can be made from the platform chemicals HMF, Butanediol, and Phenols, and see why the crop, in which you have invested, has the potential to be such a rich feedstock. Add to that the carbon capture value within your fields and the future for Miscanthus certainly looks very bright – even golden!
Needless to say, Terravesta continues to work tirelessly, in conjunction with REA and others, to promote awareness of the exciting opportunities, both to the UK government and other stakeholders. From the developments this year, it is clear that they are listening.
Above all, it is good to keep buying “Stuff”, in a discerning fashion, to bring on and deliver the next generation of renewable and biotechnologies that will sustain our planet and ecosystem going forward. Thank you all, and have a Very Happy, Healthy, Christmas!
William Cracroft-Eley, Terravesta chairman and founder