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The University of Southampton

Exploring the impact of UK energy activity on global ecosystem services

Published: 10 October 2011

The impact of UK energy activity on ecosystem services around the world is set to be investigated with the announcement of £556,000 funding from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).

The two-year project, led by Dr Felix Eigenbrod, from the University of Southampton, will explore the effect of producing different types of transportation fuel on global ecosystem services.

Researchers from the University of Southampton, Imperial College London and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre will be developing a new methodology to compare the impacts of producing various types of biofuels or oil in different parts of the world.

Currently most of the UK’s energy comes from oil and 39 per cent of this is used by transportation. With North Sea oil fields becoming less productive and as part of its commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, the UK is looking at alternative ways to fuel its transport costs with renewable biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel produced from crops like maize and palm oil.

However, these green alternatives need to have a minimal negative impact on the environment both in the UK and globally.

Initially the researchers will map a footprint of the area used to grow crops for biofuels, as well as the area needed for the infrastructure (pipelines and wells) used to produce oil.

They will then analyse what ecosystem services such as timber, fish and drinking water have been lost as a result of producing these fuels.

Felix, Lecturer in Ecology and Ecosystem Services, says: “The award of this funding will allow us to help the UK understand how our lifestyle, particularly the use of liquid transport fuels, affects ecosystems globally. By increasing our understanding we can outline the options that will minimise our impact on the environment.”

The project will be a collaboration between ecologists and experts in oil and biofuel production together with input from the UK government, major conservation organisations and the UK’s major oil producers.

It is part of more than £2m that UKERC has awarded to six new research projects addressing some of the most important energy developments in the UK and overseas.

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