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Call for beefed-up bioenergy sector to boost UK’s low-carbon energy options

Bioenergy could be deployed to meet around 10% of the UK's future energy demand and should be beefed-up, according to a new report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

The research, Delivering Greenhouse Gas Emission Savings through UK Bioenergy Value Chains, highlighted the technology's importance as a development priority, following recent policy announcements.

The report suggests promoting the role of bioenergy over the next five to ten years protects the country's option to pursue the lowest cost route to delivering the UK's climate change commitments by 2050.

According to the findings, bioenergy can offer flexibility for low-carbon energy supply in a future UK energy system, since numerous bioenergy value chains can deliver genuine system-level carbon savings, across all vectors of power, heat, liquid and gaseous fuels.

The greatest long term economic and environmental benefit, the report continues, would be achieved through a combination of bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The study also notes that due to recent decisions not to proceed with near term deployment of CCS demonstrations in the UK, bioenergy will become an even more important low carbon option for the UK.

'UK preparation for low-carbon transition'
Geraldine Newton-Cross, strategy manager, bioenergy, ETI and the report author, said: "The planting of 30,000 hectares a year (an area smaller than the Isle of Wight) of second generation bioenergy crops and short rotation forestry on marginal arable land or appropriate grassland, would keep the UK on the trajectory for scaling up domestic biomass production out to the 2050s, making bioenergy a significant contributor to a future low-carbon energy system.

"Indeed with the recent energy policy decisions delaying the deployment of CCS demonstrations in the UK, at an energy systems level, bioenergy becomes more important to drive UK preparation for a low-carbon transition."

She added: "Despite these decisions, our modelling shows that over the next 35 years, supporting the roll-out and use of bioenergy with CCS enables the UK to deliver a low carbon energy system and meet 2050 greenhouse gas emission targets at the lowest cost.

"This is because of the ability to provide negative emissions through the value chain resulting in a net reduction in the level of carbon entering the atmosphere, and providing a credit against the emissions from other sectors at the system level. Therefore this option should still be considered in the long term solutions the country adopts if it still aims to meet its emission reduction targets."

Newton-Cross explained that in the more immediate timeframe, the ETI feel that there is "now sufficient evidence of system-level carbon savings to support the implementation of a national policy framework for large scale biomass production".

She added: "The longer a decision is delayed the more rapid the roll-out would need to become, adding expense and limiting the UK's ability to identify optimal approaches and share best practice."