Over the next few weeks, until I leave BBSRC at the end of the month, I want to focus on some of the areas of the BBSRC portfolio activities which I think have been particularly important in terms of our deliverables over the last two and half years.
The first external meeting was with Prof David MacKay, Chief Scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion focussed on Bioenergy, including theoretical yields of photosynesis, losses in light and dark reactions, the continuing improvement in willow and Miscanthus yields, biological carbon sequestration, anti-flooding plants, the overall contribution to energy and chemicals needs one might anticipate from UK crops, and so on.
I attended an interesting and rationally argued set of talks at the British Library on pollinators and insecticides, chaired by Bill Turnbull of BBC Breakfast News fame (and a clearly committed beekeeper), with Panel contributions by individuals from the British Beekeepers Association, from Cambridge University and from Syngenta. The multifactorial nature of stresses on bees (not least poor weather and inadequate forage) were well explained (and well accepted) by all. Interestingly, most of the issues were precisely those that I had covered in an earlier blog or two. […]
My initial meeting last week was a very pleasant trip to listen to part of the annual symposium of the BSBEC consortium. I am not going to pick out any specific talks or posters (for which I presented the prizes), as that would be egregious, but I can safely comment – as did members of the Scientific Advisory Board – that there is very exciting and world-leading work being done here, that has the potential to improve yields, conversions and processes significantly. […]
As well as a variety of strategic meetings in Swindon, last week included an interesting meeting on sustainable energy in the British Library’s Talk Science series (albeit that neither Combined Heat and Power nor Bioenergy got a mention); probably the most detailed and pertinent contributions came from Prof Phil Taylor from Durham University, who stressed inter alia the gulf between the carbon cost (600g/kWh) on the present grid relative to the 2050 targets that approximate 50 g/kWh). Behavioural change, possibly linked to self- and community-driven generation, was likely to be an important contributor. According to Colin Snape (Nottingham University), Carbon Capture and Storage (implicitly physico-chemicaI) will add 30-60% to generating costs. Personally I prefer biological approaches! I also enjoyed a meeting with the Russell Group, launching two reports, one on the Social impacts of Research (pdf) and one on the importance and characteristics of world-class Universities (pdf), and addressed by BIS Secretary of State Dr Vince Cable and Lloyds Banking Group CEO António Horta-Osório.
We had a superb first meeting of our new Research Advisory Panel, bringing together our Heads of Strategy Panels and Committee Chairs to ensure that strategy and funding are joined up internally. The meeting also allowed a well-received outing of some of the new data visualisation tools we are developing to assist the understanding, summarisation and description of our portfolio. […]
I attended two back-to-back meetings at Portcullis House last week. The first was a discussion organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on Bioenergy. Chaired by Lord Oxburgh, this featured interesting talks from speakers representing BP Biofuels, DECC, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Forestry Commission. A strong consensus emerged around the views that biofuels had a significant role to play as part of the Bioeconomy, and that key to their success was a genuine social and environmental sustainability.
The second meeting was a ‘diamond jubilee’ celebration of 60 years of British Science achievement (pdf), with talks on Life Sciences (Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell). Chemistry (Prof Lesley Yellowlees) and Physics (Prof Brian Cox). It was thoroughly pleasant to be reminded of the litany of British scientific achievements since 1952, and Dame Nancy’s excellent presentation ended with a couple of thought-provoking slides on seeking to understand why the UK was and is so astonishingly good in the (Life) Sciences. […]