Bioenergy Review: UK can't meet carbon goals without biomass

By Anna Austin | December 12, 2011

The U.K. Committee on Climate Change has released its Bioenergy Review, which finds that without bioenergy the country is not likely to meet its long-term emissions goals.

The report defines bioenergy as solid, liquid or gas fuels made from biomass feedstocks which may or may not have undergone some form of a conversion process. It assesses the role of bioenergy in meeting the U.K.’s current carbon budgets, accounting for emissions on a complete lifecycle basis in order to determine whether increasing levels of bioenergy are compatible with providing food for a growing and increasingly wealthy global population that has wider environmental and social objectives.

According to the CCC, it will be difficult to meet the overall 2050 emissions target—an 80 percent cut in carbon dioxide—which was made law in the Climate Change Act of 2008, unless bioenergy can account for around 10 percent of total U.K. primary energy. It is currently at 2 percent. In addition, carbon capture and storage (CCS) will have to become a feasible technology.

On biomass power generation, the review recommends government support through the Renewables Obligation be tailored to burning biomass in existing coal-fired plants through conversion and co-firing, and smaller-scale plants using local resources. But it adds that safeguards will need to be introduced to ensure support for new dedicated biomass capacity is limited, if any support is given at all.

The RO went into effect in 2010 and places an obligation on licensed electricity suppliers in the U.K. to source an increasing proportion of electricity from renewable sources.

The scope for using wood in the construction industry should be considered further, including possible new incentives to encourage the practice. The review points out that there is an important role for the use of sustainable biomass for heat in energy-intensive industries, and that’s been recognized by the government in its Renewable Energy Strategy’s Renewable Heat Incentive.

The RHI program offers long-term support to compensate for capital and operating costs, as well as to remove additional barriers and ease financial costs, for thermal technologies classed as renewable under the U.K.’s Renewable Energy Directive.

Longer-term RHI funding—at least to 2020—should be confirmed to provide investor certainty, according to the CCC. “Complementing this, the use of CCS in [the bioenergy] industry could result in negative emissions from this sector, reducing risks and costs of meeting economy wide emissions targets.”

The report also points out that the role of bioenergy in heating buildings—apart from some smaller-scale, local uses—is likely to be limited, with a longer-term focus on other low-carbon alternatives such as electric technologies and waste heat from low-carbon thermal power. There is a need to further develop approaches to deploying these technologies in the near term, it concludes.

To view a copy of the Bioenergy Review click here.