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ETI: Sustainable biomass could help meet UK carbon targets, call for AG and industry cooperation

Using sustainable biomass as a source of energy could reduce the cost of meeting the UK’s 2050 carbon targets by more than 1% of GDP helping to make low carbon energy more affordable for consumers and businesses, according to a report from the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

The insight report ‘Enabling UK Biomass’ looks at the challenges for scaling-up UK biomass production to complement imported biomass and identifies potential future business models and the policy and market challenges that need to be overcome if the sector is to be built up.

The UK’s small size, dense population, and limited forest cover creates some doubt that sufficient sustainable biomass can be grown domestically.

Current land use and agricultural policy typically prioritises domestic food production, and it is often assumed that land is too scarce to allow significant planting of biomass for energy without undermining food production.

George Day, head of economic strategy at the ETI and the report’s author says future scenarios for the UK energy system suggest that bioenergy could play a crucial role in meeting the country’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 2050, but there are important questions around whether the UK sector can rely on imported feedstocks.

‘This report seeks to initiate a constructive dialogue amongst those who seek to influence, inform, or make policy in this area. At the ETI we believe there is a strong case for joining up agricultural, land use, and energy policies in ways that support domestic biomass production, both to increase land use productivity and to enable us to meet carbon targets affordably,’ Day explains.

Bioenergy’s versatility makes it particularly attractive as it can be turned into heat, used in power stations instead of fossil fuels, and turned into gas fuels such as hydrogen which can be potentially used in vehicles in the future.

When biomass is used in conjunction with carbon capture and storage solutions, it provides the only credible route to significantly reducing atmospheric carbon at a much lower cost, the report says.

Additionally, the UK would not have to work as hard to cut carbon in other areas such as transport where it is more difficult and expensive.

Growing biomass in the UK could increase energy security by complementing imports and provide economic value to the UK and could be a new income stream for farmers if the sector is developed properly.

According to Day, the ETI hold the view that the UK can produce its own domestic biomass for energy production and land could be made available without undermining food production, soil carbon stocks, local ecosystems, or amenities, but this approach will require strategic and long-term commitment to help the sector develop and establish itself.

‘One of the real challenges at the moment is that agricultural and energy policies are not joined up. If the UK wants to develop its own domestic industry it needs to give support to its own growers of biomass and encourage them to adopt that.

‘One of the most important things to consider is ensuring that growing biomass for energy does not undermine the amount of land available for food. ETI believes this can be done provided the policies are correctly shaped and give the right incentives to growers,’ Day concludes.

The ETI report can be found at http://www.eti.co.uk/bioenergy-enabling-uk-biomass/.