Plant Power: Opportunities and challenges for meeting sustainable energy needs from the plant and fungal kingdoms - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew research repository
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Journal article

Plant Power: Opportunities and challenges for meeting sustainable energy needs from the plant and fungal kingdoms

29 September 2020

Abstract

Societal Impact Statement Bioenergy is a major component of the global transition to renewable energy technologies. The plant and fungal kingdoms offer great potential but remain mostly untapped. Their increased use could contribute to the renewable energy transition and addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Current research focuses on species cultivated at scale in temperate regions, overlooking the wealth of potential new sources of small‐scale energy where they are most urgently needed. A shift towards diversified, accessible bioenergy technologies will help to mitigate and adapt to the threats of climate change, decrease energy poverty, improve human health by reducing indoor pollution, increase energy resilience of communities, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Summary Bioenergy derived from plants and fungi is a major component of the global transition to renewable energy technologies. There is rich untapped diversity in the plant and fungal kingdoms that offers potential to contribute to the shift away from fossil fuels and to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Energy poverty—the lack of access to modern energy services—is most acute in the Global South where biodiversity is greatest and least investigated. Our systematic review of the literature over the last 5 years (2015–2020) indicates that research efforts have targeted a very small number of plant species cultivated at scale, mostly in temperate regions. The wealth of potential new sources of bioenergy in biodiverse regions, where the implementation of SDG7 is most urgently needed, has been largely overlooked. We recommend next steps for bioenergy stakeholders—research, industry, and government—to seize opportunities for innovation to alleviate energy poverty while protecting biodiversity. Small‐scale energy production using native plant species in bioenergy landscapes overcomes many pitfalls associated with bioenergy crop monocultures, such as biodiversity loss and conflict with food production. Targeted trait‐based screening of plant species and biological screening of fungi are required to characterize the potential of this resource. The benefits of diversified, accessible bioenergy go beyond the immediate urgency of energy poverty as more diverse agricultural landscapes are more resilient, store more carbon, and could also reduce the drivers of the climate and environmental emergencies.

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