Optimizing the bioenergy water footprint selecting SRC-willow canopy phenotypes: regional scenario simulations

Benjamin Richard, Goetz M. Richter, Marianna Cerasuolo, Ian Shield

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Background and Aims: Bioenergy is central for the future energy mix to mitigate climate change impacts; however, its intricate link with the water cycle calls for an evaluation of the carbon–water nexus in biomass production. The great challenge is to optimize trade-offs between carbon harvest and water use by choosing cultivars that combine low water use with high productivity.

Methods: Regional scenarios were simulated over a range of willow genotype × environment interactions for the major UK soil × climate variations with the process-based model LUCASS. Soil available water capacity (SAWC) ranged from 51 to 251 mm and weather represented the north-west (wet, cool), north-east (dry, cool), south-west (wet, warm) and south-east (dry, warm) of the UK. Scenario simulations were evaluated for small/open narrow-leaf (NL) versus large/closed broad-leaf (BL) willow canopy phenotypes using baseline (1965–89) and warmer recent (1990–2014) weather data.

Key Results: The low productivity under baseline climate in the north could be compensated by choosing BL cultivars (e.g. ‘Endurance’). Recent warmer climate increased average productivity by 0.5–2.5 t ha−1, especially in the north. The modern NL cultivar ‘Resolution’ had the smallest and most efficient water use. On marginal soils (SAWC <100 mm), yields remained below an economic threshold of 9 t ha−1more frequently under baseline than recent climate. In the drought-prone south-east, ‘Endurance’ yielded less than ‘Resolution’, which consumed on average 17 mm year−1 less water. Assuming a planting area of 10 000 ha, in droughty years between 1.3 and 4.5 × 106 m3 of water could be saved, with a small yield penalty, for ‘Resolution’.

Conclusions: With an increase in air temperature and occasional water scarcities expected with climate change, high-yielding NL cultivars should be the preferred choice for sustainable use of marginal lands and reduced competition with agricultural food crops.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Botany
Early online date13 Feb 2019
Publication statusEarly online - 13 Feb 2019


  • RCUK
  • BB/I014934/1
  • BB/I0300
  • NE/N018125/1 LTS-M


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