ROKWOOD: Fuelling dialogue between biomass research, industry, policy & business

Bristol & Granada, June 2015. Rokwood is a major project that is attempting to increase the market penetration of woody energy crops grown in short rotation plantations (SRPs) by identifying research requirements, proposing workable policy options and suggesting joint activities with European and international partners. The project is in its final year and this article will provide details of the outputs so far.

The project involves a large consortia – 20 partners from 6 countries (Germany, Ireland, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK as well as EUBIA – the European Biomass Industries Association. Some of the clusters (Sweden and Germany) have a well-developed SRP sector whilst others (e.g. UK and Ireland) do not. Each country is represented by a triple helix of a small to medium enterprise (SME) a research body and a local authority.  The SW of England partners are Crops for Energy, The Centre of Sustainable Energy and Dorset County Council. The project will end in November 2015.


Obstacles and barriers

Back in early 2013 we engaged in a major analysis of the SRP industry in the UK. Part of the exercise involved doing a PESTLE analysis. We held an interactive workshop involving a dozen or so SW stakeholders and identified 78 political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors. Some of these were positive but there an overwhelming number obstacles that are crippling the industry. Amongst these were the:

  • Lack of incentives
  • Lack of infrastructure
  • Age of farmers
  • Invisibility in Government departments
  • Lack of awareness and understanding

We needed to condense this information down into a more manageable form. We used an old fashioned SWOT analysis to do this. The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats listed here are some of the most important ones and were common to pretty much all of the clusters across Europe.


Innovative measures to overcome the obstacles and barriers

The second part of the project involved the innovative measures required to overcome the problems that the industry faces.


Research needs

We assessed the research needs of the SRP industry. Not surprisingly as this project is to a great extent driven by SMEs who are involved in the practical delivery of projects this centred on a lot of technical issues such as machinery improvement, woodfuel quality and environmental applications (such as water quality improvement and flood mitigation). Based on these needs we are developing some fully formed project ideas.


Joint Action Plan

Rokwood partners spent months working on developing a Joint Action Plan (JAP). This is one of the main outputs of the project and is in effect a route map on how to develop the SRP sector.
The JAP involves six priority areas and makes 34 recommendations for joint activities. Some of these will be started during the final months of the project whilst others will have a much longer timeframe.

ROKWOOD JAP priority areas:

  • Development of SRP pilot/demonstration projects
  • Engagement in lobbying at the EU-level
  • Produciton of regional species & translation agronomy guidelines
  • Knowledge transference of cultivation, logistics and end-use
  • Encourage mulit-functionality and added value research
  • Develop education and training programms for sector stakeholders

A public version of the JAP will shortly be uploaded onto the Rokwood website. The delivery of the JAP will indicate to the European Commission the sort of research and innovation projects that are required and it is hoped that it will therefore influence the future direction of R&D spending on SRPs.


Policy briefs

Unfortunately, as a small industry, the SRP sector tends to be the recipient of poorly constructed policy mechanisms.  This was recently in evidence with the watering down of the so called “greening measures” under the EU Common Agricultural Policy. At the drafting stage SRPs were seen as a key environmental component but lobbying by other groups (representing food crops and conservation bodies) meant that the final regulations were unworkable.   In future the SRP industry will need to be more organised and work together in order to compete against bigger lobbying sectors that always seem to get their way.

As a starting point each cluster developed their own policy briefs – a document setting out possible policy recommendations to deal with critical issues facing the SRP industry in their countries. The UK policy briefs focus on the need for:

  • Evidence base review of SRC costs & benefits
  • Enabling SRC harvesting, storage & processing infrastructure to supply local heat markets
  • Lowering investment risk for SRC growers
  • Matching supply and demand to help achieve economies of scale

These have been shared with Government departments and committees as well as regional stakeholders. All the policy briefs are available on the Rokwood website.


International Co-operation Strategy

In tandem with the JAP we have produced an International Co-operation strategy (ICS). We‘ve evaluated the offer and demand for SRPs from other European countries and major markets around the world including North America, South America and India. We‘ve identified and contacted organisations and researchers with common interests and with whom we may take initiatives and projects forward.  If you haven’t been contacted but are interested in collaboration then you can join the Rokwood marketplace.


Implementing the JAP

The final part of the project will involve the first steps to implement the JAP. The Rokwood website will continue to evolve and provide useful information such as Europe wide databases of machinery contractors and sellers of SRP plant material. We‘ll be producing a number of informative publications in the coming months – possibly the most influential of these will be the book of 40 best practice case studies. There will be the opportunity for Rokwood partners to go on staff exchanges and through the ICS we will be helping to provide some support to researchers who might be interested in learning or teaching counterparts in other countries.  The project will conclude in November 2015 and the final meeting will take place alongside the Biomass and Energy Crops V conference in Brussels.