WATBIO is focused on three of the most promising options for biomass production: poplar, miscanthus (a giant grass) and Arundo donax L. They are all woody perennial species and so use energy (e.g. diesel for cultivation) and nutrients efficiently. They conserve and increase soil organic matter and prevent erosion.
The cultivation of poplar (Poplus spp.) for timber is well established and the genus has been the subject of intensive biological research over the last 20 years. Three poplar species are native to Europe. WATBIO benefits from an extensive suite of genomic tools already available to support breeding.
Miscanthus is a genus of giant grasses native to Asia. It uses the C4 metabolism which means it is high yielding under warm and sunny conditions and relatively efficient in using water. Miscanthus is a new crop and the world’s leading breeder (Aberystwyth University) is in the WATBIO consortium. It is harvested once per year using conventional agricultural machinery and overwinter. Tolerance of mild water stress is expected to contribute to yield improvement but a key additional requirement is the ability to survive extreme drought and heat stress.
Arundo donax L. is known as Giant Reed or Spanish Reed. It is a native of the Asia, but is now naturalised in warmer parts of Europe. Even though it uses the C3 metabolism (i.e. the metabolism of most cool climate crops), it grows particularly rapidly in warm conditions. As a crop, arundo is underdeveloped. The leading and world pioneering developer of the crop is a partner in WATBIO.