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GRowing Advanced industrial Crops on marginal lands for biorEfineries

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - GRACE (GRowing Advanced industrial Crops on marginal lands for biorEfineries)

Période du rapport: 2020-06-01 au 2021-05-31

The BBI demonstration project “GRowing Advanced industrial Crops on marginal lands for biorEfineries” (GRACE) is an EU-funded project, which aims to optimize biomass value chains for a range of biobased products with biomass from miscanthus and hemp hybrids.
The goals of the project are to produce biobased products with a strong market potential, to guarantee a reliable and affordable supply of sustainably produced biomass, and to better link biomass producers with the processing industry. In order to avoid competition with food and feed crops, miscanthus and hemp are cultivated on areas that are abandoned or less favourable for food production due to lower yields or pollution by heavy metals.

The GRACE project aims to develop the knowledge needed for commercial upscaling of miscanthus and hemp biomass production on lower grade marginal lands and connect the biomass produced with a range of end products via demonstration cases.
The GRACE consortium involves a close collaboration between breeders, growers and downstream industry who together will match new cultivars with specific end-uses.

The GRACE project is contributing towards the goal of transforming the European economy into a sustainable bioeconomy. Thereby, the GRACE project is especially focussing on provision of sustainable produced feedstock and linking the whole value chain from biomass production to the final biobased product. To ensure the sustainability and avoid negative impacts on environment and society, all value chains are monitored by environmental, social and economic life-cycle assessment tools. Shifting the fossil based economy more towards a bioeconomy is part of an integrated strategy to address societal challenges, such as climate change, while helping to create new jobs especially for rural areas.
In the first 36 months of the project, the consortium established more approx. 80 ha of field trials at three different scales: plot (by hand), field and full commercial scale (using machines). Extreme climatic conditions in 2018, with droughts and floods in large parts of Central Europe made crop establishment challenging. Advanced agronomic techniques for establishment showed that risks of crop failure could be mitigated. The consortium replanted trials in 2019, which established insufficiently in 2018 and several ha of commercial scale trials using biodegradable, biobased mulchfilm were established in 2020. In 2019, the field trials were able to establish very well and to recover from the damages in 2018. In spring 2020, the first harvest at most locations was performed and data showed promising yields for a second year crop. In 2021, the first full yield is being expected, which allows for a comparison between the standard clone Miscanthus x giganteus and the novel hybrids.
Industrial partners were making considerable progress in demonstrating all value chains. Several demo plants have been finished or are very close to being finished in the next weeks and will run operation in the next reporting period. DC1 already sucessfully demonstrated bioethanol production from miscanthus biomass using Clariant's sunliquid technology and DC10 successfully demonstrated extaction of CBD from hemp threshing residues.

The goal and scope of the environmental, social and economic assessments for each step in each of the ten GRACE value chains has been defined. Assessment of several value chains has already been performed and for other value chains, the data collection and the assessment is still ongoing. At the end of the project, assessments of all vlaue chains will be finished, which allows cross-comparison of the environmental, social and economic sustainability of all considered value chains (considering thier respective fossil references).

The GRACE project is very active in disseminating the results. GRACE has meanwhile achieved more than 140 dissemination activities and about 20 companies have joined the Industry Panel. A first newsletter for the Industry Panel members has been produced and published in April 2020. The membership in the Industry Panel will remain open until the end of the project and GRACE will try to attract more interested companies to facilitate collaboration in the biobased industry.
GRACE is also very active on social media - publishing news on Twitter, Facebook and the GRACE website - and collaborating with GRACE partners by sharing social media news from the partners to extent their outreach.
The partners of the GRACE project are working to progress beyond the current state of the art in crop production and biomass conversion to expand the future bioeconomy. Expected impacts of the GRACE project are:
- to increase utilization of low quality arable land (low-productivity, contaminated or unused) and by doing so, minimize the potential for food/fuel competition.
- to demonstrate to potential growers/farmers where the cultivation of hemp and miscanthus are both, economically viable and environmentally sound.
- to incubate innovation in the utilization of the biomass and thereby create new business opportunities for rural areas.
- to reduce import dependency of Europe in energy and chemical sectors, by paving the way for viable options to produce biofuels and biobased platform chemicals based on biomass from marginal, contaminated or unused land.
- to demonstrate the direct and indirect social and environmental benefits of perennial biomass production and utilization, such as the prevention of soil erosion by soil stabilization on slopes, soil remediation, and an alternative
revenue for currently uneconomic or contaminated farm land.
- to demonstrate that introducing biomass crops in the right places, will increase food security rather than compete with food crop production through long term improvements in soil fertility on depleted, abandoned or contaminated
land for future food production.
- to contribute to the development of the European Bioeconomy by demonstrating the production of novel biobased-products with a high market potential.
The GRACE project thereby contributes to the following Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of the European Union:
- KPI 2: “Ten new bio-based value chains by 2020”, by demonstration of new biobased value chains (from biomass production to biobased product).
- KPI 3: "A shorter time to market", by setting up new cross-industry cooperation. In GRACE more than 50% of the partners are SMEs, which exceeds the EC H2020 target of 20% SME contribution.
- KPI 4: “5 new building blocks for the chemical industry by 2020”, by demonstration of novel building blocks.
- KPI 5: “Fifty new biobased materials by 2020”, by upscaling of production of new biobased materials.

The GRACE project will contribute to the European Bioeconomy by increasing the biomass production from marginal lands and reducing the cost of crop establishment. This will enable current marginal land in the EU (estimated as 5% of crop land and 10% of grassland), which is at least 3.5% of the area.
The value of the biomass produced from this area, even if it was used as a feedstock for thermal energy, would add an estimated 11bn euro to the economy.
Bird view on the field scale trial in Eastern Germany (taken by GTK using an UAV)