UK Clean Air Strategy could impact coal-to-biomass conversions

By Erin Voegele | January 14, 2019

On Jan. 14, the U.K. government released its Clean Air Strategy following a draft proposal and public consultation launched in May 2018. The U.K. Renewable Energy Association said it welcomes the ambitions of the strategy, but called on the government to take into account contemporary evidence on the role of bioenergy in meeting carbon targets.

The 109-page Clean Air Strategy, published by the U.K. Department Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, makes several references to biomass-based energy.

Within the document, the government announced it will open a public consultation “on making coal to biomass conversions ineligible for future allocation rounds of the contracts for difference scheme.” The government also references its recent public consultation on the Renewable Heat Incentive that would ban building new RHI biomass applications installed in urban areas with access to the gas grid.

Within the document, government also noted it will consider the case for setting tighter emission controls for biomass installations to reduce particulate matter (PM) emissions from energy generation.

Regarding home heating, the Clean Air Strategy notes that approximately 2 percent of U.K. households burning biomass have biomass boilers to heat their homes. While the air quality impacts of these installations are much lower than open fires and stoves, the government said emissions can vary depending upon the quality of the installation, the fuel used, and how the system is maintained. The strategy said the government will raise awareness of these factors by working with industry and developing guidance for local authorities, regulators and households to reduce the air quality impacts from biomass installations.

The strategy also addresses ammonia emissions from anaerobic digestion (AD).  According to the strategy, the government plans to introduce a requirement to store digestate in covered stores by 2027 and a requirement to spread digestate using low-emissions spreading equipment by 2025 in an effort to reduce ammonia emissions associated with AD projects.

“The Government’s Clean Air Strategy includes welcome ambitions to bring the U.K.’s air quality in line with WHO limits,” said James Court, policy and external affairs director at the REA. “To take this plan forward, government must now deliver strong sector specific policies that support technologies to address these concerns, while also properly enforcing existing controls such as Clean Air Zones and existing legislation.

“Critically, future policies must be based on up-to-date evidence that recognizes the role bioenergy has to play in both improving air quality and, at the same time, meeting our carbon reduction targets,” Court continued. “For this reason, it remains concerning that government continue to target biomass heating systems, while urban air quality problems can be best minimized by focusing on encouraging vehicles powered by electricity or renewable fuels. Similarly, much greater detail will now be required on the proposals to ensure ammonia emissions are minimized when storing and spreading digestates, ensuring this is correctly implemented and in a proportionate manner to support a growing anaerobic digestion and organics recycling sector.

“From a renewable power perspective, proposals to remove future biomass power sites from future renewable power auctions seemingly ignore the strenuous, tightly controlled and audited emission standards already in place, which also continue to be strengthened,” Court said.

A full copy of the Clean Air Strategy can be downloaded from the U.K. government website.