NNFCC briefing stresses bioenergy can deliver meaningful benefits

By Erin Voegele | December 14, 2012

The U.K. has committed to sourcing 15 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2020, and biomass is expected to pay a crucial role in this goal by delivering low carbon sources of heat, power and liquid fuels. A briefing report recently released by bioeconomy consulting firm NNFCC stresses that biomass can deliver cost-effective, low-carbon energy. However, the organization also argues that the way these cost and carbon benefits are calculated need to be more transparent and robust.

The report, titled “NNFCC Briefing: Bioenergy—A sustainable solution for electricity generation in the U.K.,” disputes a paper published by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace  that theorized  that the use of biomass for energy was dirtier than coal. That report was titled, “Dirtier than Coal? Why Government plans to subsidise burning trees are bad for the planet.”

The NNFCC briefing explains the carbon cycle for biomass, and stresses that even if biomass isn’t harvested and utilized for bioenergy purposes, it still releases greenhouse gases as it decomposes at its end of life.

“If we manage forests by taking out thinnings and deadwood, we can improve productivity, prevent the release of greenhouse gases and create a feedstock for bioenergy generation,” said the NNFCC in the briefing.

While the “Dirtier than Coal?” report argues it will take 80 years to payback the carbon associated with the burning of conifer trees for energy, the NNFCC asserts that other sources of data have estimated the payback period to be less than 40 years.

"Biomass is a flexible and baseload source of low-carbon power—meaning it can regulate the national grid and deliver energy on-demand, this makes it hugely important to the future of UK electricity production,” said Matthew Aylott, author of the NNFCC report. "Many sources of biomass used in the production of electricity are not only cleaner than coal, they also offer wider economic benefits, but bioenergy is also complex and no two sources of biomass are the same. We need open discussion and robust methods for calculating the net environmental and economic benefits from different sources of bioenergy.”

A full copy of the report is available for download on the NNFCC website