The contribution of bioenergy to the UK’s energy mix could double by 2050, according to a new report by the government’s climate change watchdog.
The new study, published by the Committee on Climate Change today (Thursday), estimates that bioenergy could meet between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of the UK’s energy demand in 2050.
According to the committee’s modelling, this would reduce the UK’s total emissions by 50 MtCO2e/yr.
The committee says there is “significant potential” to increase domestic production of sustainable biomass to meet 5 per cent to 10 per cent of UK energy demand by 2050.
This could be achieved by a combination of increased tree planting, fully exploiting UK’s organic waste and planting 1 million hectares, equivalent to seven per cent of Britain’s farmland, with energy crops.
It says the balance could be derived by a threefold increase in imports from overseas of biomass, which has been sourced sustainably.
The report also estimates that up to 65 megatons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to up to around 15 per cent of current UK CO2 emissions, could be sequestered through combined biomass and carbon capture and storage (BECCS)plants.
The CCC recommends that the BEIS (business, energy and industrial strategy) department and Treasury should create a value for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it by extending carbon pricing.
And it says no further support should be provided for large-scale biomass power plants that are not deployed with CCS technology.
Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, defended the committee’s support for biomass, the use of which has been criticised on the ground that it swallows up land that would otherwise support agriculture or nature.
He said: “The key thing is that we have this extraordinary flexible resource in biomass which should be part of the decarbonisation plan for the globe. It’s low carbon and sustainable as long as we ensure that the sustainable criteria are met.”
But he also told Utility Week that the way biomass is used would have to be rationed in order to make the best use of a scarce resource.
The report recommends that biomass should be used mainly in power plants, combined with CCS, and aircraft with biofuels phased out in cars and vans during the 2030s.
The report was welcomed by Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax Group, which is working on plans for the world’s first “carbon negative” power plant, which would use BECCS technology.
He said: “We agree with the Committee on Climate Change – sustainably sourced biomass will play an essential, long-term role in delivering the low carbon future needed to meet our climate targets.”
“Biomass is the only flexible renewable, which can deliver all the support services needed to maintain a secure power system, as more renewables, like wind and solar, come online – further reducing our CO2emissions.”
Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Information Unit, commented: “With the UK in a good position to lead the charge on BECCS – in which biomass burning is linked with carbon capture, resulting in net-negative emissions – this potential should not be overlooked.
“The potential for biofuels beyond the electricity sector is also set to grow as the UK heads towards a net-zero emissions economy. However, with uncertainty over the true sustainability of biomass currently burned in the UK, it is vital that environmental criteria are met, and that food crops are not displaced.”