On the 12th of January 2023 the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology published a brief review (POST Note) on the status and role of Biomass in UK energy generation.
There is an expectation that demand for biomass in the UK will increase in the coming decades to supply bioenergy for production of heat, power and aviation fuel. Biomass energy facilities are intended to be increasingly coupled with carbon capture and storage technologies (BECCS), which can capture the emissions generated from combustion so they can be either be used elsewhere or stored long-term. It is anticipated that dedicated energy crops, such as miscanthus and coppice willow, will make a significant contribution to domestic biomass supply, in addition to use of wastes and residues.
The review notes that the expansion of the UK biomass production sector presents an array of technical and socio-economic challenges which will need to be addressed to enable sustainable growth of the sector, avoid increasing reliance on imported biomass and avoid causing other deleterious effects on the environment.
The main challenges were identified as:
- Managing land use trade-offs to avoid competition between forest, food, fuel production and other forms of land-use while supporting biodiversity and natural ecosystems.
- Ensuring sustainability criteria for biomass to avoid negative environmental consequences on the environment, both in the UK and overseas.
The main barriers identified:
- Financial barriers – Compared with existing food crops, energy crops require a longer establishment period (3-5 years) before the first harvest. This leads to high up-front cost and higher financial risk as the number of buyers for energy crop biomass are currently limited. A long-term incentive scheme has been recommended by stakeholders, to support both supply and demand; both to boost confidence in the market and help mitigate the financial risk for new entrants.
- Technical barriers – Scaling up domestic production requires more widespread adoption of new techniques and equipment for planting, harvesting, processing and transporting biomass. Factors the UK biomass feedstocks innovation programme has been created to address.
- Social and cultural barriers – Addressing negative perceptions of bioenergy in the wider society and legitimacy of biomass crops and their legitimacy in the eyes of the farming community.
- Policy barriers – Stakeholders from within the sector have highlighted a need for longer term assurances and investment to support growth in the biomass sector and encourage more farmers to consider growing energy crops. It is hoped that many of these factors will be addressed in the forthcoming Biomass strategy which is due to be published this year.
Click here for the full report:
POSTNote 690 – Biomass for UK Energy [PDF File – 596KB]