Report explains role of biomass in theoretical zero-carbon future

By Erin Voegele | July 18, 2013

A report published by the U.K.-based Centre for Alternative Technology asserts that the U.K. can achieve a net zero carbon emissions level by leveraging existing technology. The report, titled “Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future,” describes a scenario under which the U.K. achieves this benchmark by 2030.

“By making changes to our buildings, transport systems and behaviour, and by investing in a variety of renewable energy generation technologies suited to the U.K. (without a nuclear component), we can provide a reliable zero carbon energy supply without negatively impacting on quality of life,” said the organization in the report. Biomass plays a crucial role in achieving that scenario.

The scenario includes many components, including changes to food production and consumption, the restoration and expansion of certain wildlife habitats, and energy, among others. The scenario also employs the restoration of peat land and the expansion of forested areas to capture carbon and provide wood products

Regarding transportation, the report advocates for increased public transportation, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuels. However, the authors also point out that ships, airplanes and some road vehicles would continue to need liquid fuels. This need would be filled by biomass-based fuels. The report specifies that 98 TWh per year of synthetic liquid fuel would be needed for transportation, with 39 TWh of that amount consumed for aviation and 59 TWh utilized by heavy commercial vehicles and ships.

Under the heading of power, the scenario calls for biogas from biomass and chemical processes for creating carbon neutral syngas and synthetic liquid fuels from biomass and hydrogen to replace fossil fuels for a portion of electricity production. The report calls for 27 TWh per year of this biomass-based energy to be deployed in a manner that helps manage the variability associated with other renewable energy sources, such as wind.

Overall, 274 TWh per year of biomass energy is needed to meet the net carbon zero scenario in the report, with 37 TWh coming from waste and 237 TWh from purpose grown energy crops.

A total of 36 TWh of biomass would be needed for heating year, 10 TWh to heat buildings and 26 TWh for industrial processes. An additional 61 TWh of biomass or synthetic liquid gas and 12 TWh of synthetic liquid fuels would also be need for industrial processes.

Under the scenario, approximately 4.1 million hectares of land is used to grow energy crops. Most of this land is area currently used for livestock grazing. Within the report, the CAT specifies that short rotation forestry, short rotation coppice, miscanthus and other mixed grasses would play a role in meeting the U.K.’s biomass needs.

A full copy of the report is available on the CAT website