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Bioenergy crops boost essential to achieve net-zero

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Accelerating the growth of bioenergy crops is an important element to achieve decarbonisation, the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) sixth carbon budget highlighted in December.

According to the report, polluting emissions in the UK must decrease by 78% by 2035, and energy crops and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) will significantly contribute to net-zero targets.

The carbon budget states that planting perennial energy crops, including Miscanthus and short rotation willow coppice, alongside short rotation forestry, needs to accelerate quickly to at least 30,000 hectares (ha) per year by 2035 so that 700,000 ha are planted by 2050.

This increase could sequester 2 MtCO2e by 2035 and over 6 MtCO2e by 2050. When used with CCS technologies, this could displace a further 3 MtCO2e of greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere in the economy by 2035, increasing to 10 MtCO2e by 2050.

“The CCC modelling includes the carbon benefits of bioenergy crops but not the additional emissions savings from reduced nitrogen use by moving from annual to perennial crops,” said chairman of Miscanthus specialist Terravesta, William Cracroft-Eley.

“With bioenergy crops specifically grown for use in the energy sector, providing emissions savings from displacing fossil fuels and CO2 removal if combined with CCS along with any net carbon capture benefits that are derived while growing these crops, a sustainable UK supply of bioenergy is an important contributor to our net-zero targets.

“What’s more, it’s a solution that is developed, scalable, and ready to deliver today, with the ability to produce substantial annual feedstock harvests after the second year from planting. Nothing else can deliver both the essential carbon-negative feedstocks and sequestration at the same scale in that timeframe.”

Cracroft-Eley believes the focus should be on end-uses that are ready to go now, to have those technologies contributing to the maximum as soon as possible.

“In the UK, that means first-generation burning technologies, delivering large-scale heat and electricity, whether as dedicated supply to major industry or uploaded onto the National Grid from biomass power stations,” he said.

“That is not to say that there aren’t many exciting emerging uses, which include fibre, construction materials, bio-refining for multiple products, some of which offer much greater carbon benefit than burning, but power generation is here at scale and ready to go now, while most of the other technologies are still at the scale-up stage.”