Bioenergy should be accelerated in the UK to deliver affordable low carbon energy options

A new report “Delivering Greenhouse Gas Emission Savings through UK Bioenergy Value Chains” from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) reaffirms the potential of bioenergy as a low carbon game changer for the UK’s future energy system with its importance as a development priority heightened following recent energy policy announcements.

The report says taking decisions and positive action on the role of bioenergy over the next five to 10 years protects the country’s option to pursue the lowest cost route to delivering the UK’s climate change commitments by 2050.

Bioenergy offers flexibility to a future UK energy system and it could be deployed to meet around 10% of future UK energy demand. Numerous bioenergy value chains can deliver genuine system-level carbon savings across all key vectors – power, heat, liquid and gaseous fuels.

ETI modelling from its bioenergy programme shows that the greatest economic and environmental benefit to a future UK low carbon energy system transition is achieved when bioenergy is combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to deliver substantial negative emissions, reducing the need to decarbonise more expensive technologies and sectors.

Recent decisions not to proceed with near term deployment of CCS demonstrations in the UK means that bioenergy becomes an even more important low carbon option for the UK to prioritise.

Bioenergy deployed without CCS can still deliver greenhouse gas emissions savings given the right choice of crop type, location and ultimate end use in the energy system. This is through second generation biomass feedstock grown on suitable arable land or grassland in appropriate UK locations.

A recent YouGov survey for the ETI highlighted public support for the use of bioenergy with 72% of respondents supporting biomass to energy, and 81% supporting waste to energy.

Sustainability, security of supply and public acceptability can be increased if the UK doesn’t rely entirely on biomass imports, and instead uses a mixture of ‘home-grown’ and imported feedstock.

Geraldine Newton-Cross, strategy manager, bioenergy, ETI and the report author said:
“Numerous bioenergy value chains can deliver genuine system-level carbon savings, across all key vectors of power, heat, liquid and gaseous fuels. The planting of 30,000 hectares a year (an area smaller than the Isle of Wight) of second generation bioenergy crops and short rotation forestry on marginal arable land or appropriate grassland, would keep the UK on the trajectory for scaling up domestic biomass production out to the 2050s, making bioenergy a significant contributor to a future low carbon energy system.
“Indeed with the recent energy policy decisions delaying the deployment of CCS demonstrations in the UK, at an energy systems level, bioenergy becomes more important to drive UK preparation for a low carbon transition.

“Despite these decisions, our modelling shows that over the next 35 years, supporting the roll-out and use of bioenergy with CCS enables the UK to deliver a low carbon energy system and meet 2050 greenhouse gas emission targets at the lowest cost. This is because of the ability to provide negative emissions through the value chain resulting in a net reduction in the level of carbon entering the atmosphere, and providing a credit against the emissions from other sectors at the system level. Therefore this option should still be considered in the long term solutions the country adopts if it still aims to meet its emission reduction targets.

“In the more immediate timeframe, we feel there is now sufficient evidence of system-level carbon savings to support the implementation of a national policy framework for large scale biomass production. The longer a decision is delayed the more rapid the roll-out would need to become, adding expense and limiting the UK’s ability to identify optimal approaches and share best practice.”

This report is based on over four years of ETI research into bioenergy which has involved quantifying land use change emissions in the UK and assessing the ability of different bioenergy value chains (uses) to deliver genuine carbon savings at the system level. To realise these savings, action and support is needed to increase the production of sustainable biomass feedstock in the UK, in ways that fit with efficient and optimised farming and land management systems.

Last year the ETI published a report “Enabling UK Biomass” which said that using sustainable biomass as a source of energy could reduce the cost of meeting the UKs 2050 carbon targets by more than 1% of GDP, helping to make low carbon energy more affordable for consumers and businesses.