Industry warns UK government of “urgent need” for Biomass Strategy to go further

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The UK government set out its Biomass Strategy on 10 August after months of delay, with its purpose being to set out the role biomass can play in reaching net zero, what the government is doing to enable that objective and where further action is needed.
A key commitment of the Biomass Strategy is to develop and implement a cross-sectoral common sustainability framework, subject to consultation.
The report found that the UK's ultimate determinant of the contribution of biomass to net zero will be its ability to gain access to sustainable feedstocks at sufficient scale and acceptable prices.
Domestic and international biomass
As the biomass supply is so diverse, understanding future availability is complex and subject to significant uncertainties, according to the government.
Currently, biomass from domestic sources makes up 66% of the total biomass used in renewable energy generation. The strategy presented illustrative scenarios highlighting that imported sustainable biomass supply is also important in supporting its use across the economy.
Domestic biomass cultivation and deployment will be considered in the context of the government’s Food Strategy commitment to maintain current levels of food production and alongside its legally binding Environment Act 2021 targets.
"We will continue to monitor the levels of biomass supply to ensure the UK can secure the necessary supply for increasing biomass use across the economy and we will consider interventions to remove barriers to increasing biomass supply if necessary," said the government.
Priority use of biomass
The government added that sustainable biomass is a limited resource, and that its future availability to the UK is uncertain.
This means its use should be prioritised where it offers the greatest environmental, economic and social benefits.
Opportunities for biomass use within each sector should be considered against other low carbon alternatives available to that sector.
As a result, harder-to-decarbonise areas, technologies and sectors should be some of the priority uses of biomass, it said.
Short, medium and long term 
In the short term (2020s) the UK government said it will continue to facilitate sustainable biomass deployment through a range of incentives and requirements covering power, heat and transport.
In the medium term (to 2035) government intends to further develop biomass uses in power, heat and transport sectors to support the delivery of Carbon Budget 6, with a view to transition away from unabated emission uses of biomass where possible to uses - such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
Biomass use in the long term (to 2050) is difficult to predict, owing to wide ranging uncertainties and evidence gaps, said the goverment.
However, current modelling indicates that biomass use combined with BECCS for power, heat and transport contribute the most towards net zero.
Emerging bioeconomy products and markets beyond energy will continue to be reviewed, said the government.
Based on the government's current analysis, the strategy sets out that biomass uses that can produce negative emissions (those that capture and store CO2) should be prioritised in the long term to support UK’s net zero target.
Biomass could still play a role in hard-to-decarbonise sectors that may not be able to universally deploy BECCS but have limited alternatives, according to the report.
However, relative demand is expected to be lower than BECCS usage. New or existing biomass applications should therefore consider options and routes to deploy BECCS at their facilities in the longer-term, it continued.
Biomass with carbon capture and storage
The government is also publishing a report led by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Chief Scientific Adviser’s Task and Finish Group. This sought to establish an evidence-based position on the validity of BECCS as a Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) option to deliver negative emissions.
The report will set out how “well regulated” BECCS can achieve its objective to deliver negative emissions and ensure positive outcomes for people, the environment and the climate.
The government acknowledged that BECCS is not operating at scale in the UK, but noted it is operating elsewhere globally in demonstration plants and at commercial scale.
The deployment of BECCS will come via several possible routes, each of which are at various stages of technology readiness, the government said.
There is active work ongoing in government to support BECCS, including development of several business models to support it, it added.
Biomass uses across the economy
Biomass electricity and power BECCS could provide either dispatchable or baseload power, offering valuable flexibility to complement the variability of other renewables, said the report. As a result, the role of biomass electricity is being explored in the Review of Electricity Market Arrangements (REMA).
Biomethane will continue to play an important role in optimising the path to net zero and increasing energy security, added the government.
It can support decarbonising a number of sectors such as heat, transport and power, and the anaerobic digestion (AD) process is recognised as a recycling activity, creating a more circular economy. As part of this, the government said it is taking a holistic approach to identify the barriers to the growth of the biomethane market and understand how best to address these.
Biomass will also likely have a role in heating in certain properties such as off-gas grid homes that are not readily suitable for heat pumps, and where appropriate mitigations can be set in place to minimise air quality impacts.
The government said it is considering a range of options to decarbonise these types of properties.
Low carbon transport fuels include liquid and gaseous fuels produced from biomass. The government said these types of fuels play an important role in the decarbonisation of the transport sector.
"Today we see their use in road vehicles, but as zero tailpipe emission technologies become commonplace their role will increasingly shift to transport modes with limited alternatives to the use of liquid and gaseous fuels, such as aviation and maritime," it said.
Therefore, the Department for Transport will publish a Low Carbon Fuels Strategy which will set out how the deployment of low carbon fuels, including biofuels, may evolve in the period to 2050 across different transport modes.
In terms of industrial decarbonisation, the government said it is working to enable industry to meet the ambition of replacing 50TWh of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources by 2035.
Biomass use in industry should be prioritised in combination with CCUS, it said.
In the absence of viable BECCS infrastructure, the government added it will continue to support biomass use in industry where limited low carbon alternatives are available.
Biomass can also be used directly as a feedstock for low carbon hydrogen through reformation, gasification, or pyrolysis technologies, and if carbon capture and storage is added this can provide negative emissions.
The government said the UK is committed to supporting multiple production routes to hydrogen.
In relation to other uses of biomass, the report noted there is increased interest in the concept of the bioeconomy.
The bioeconomy includes both energy uses and non-energy uses of biomass, such as wood-based products (timber, wood panels), biochar, and bio-chemicals and biomaterials (bioplastics).
The government said it will work with international and industry partners to better understand how the bio-based chemicals and materials sectors can form part of the long term priority use of biomass.
Industry response
Seven UK energy trade bodies sent Minister Graham Stuart a letter welcoming the Biomass Strategy.
The trade bodies were pleased that the strategy recognises the complexity of the sector and has taken a strong evidence-based approach to the development of the strategy.
The letter also reiterates industry support for the development of a cross sectoral common sustainability framework.
However, the letter warns that there is an urgent need to go further in the next few months.
"It is critical that Ministers provide workable routes to market for 'negative emissions' made possible by combining bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)," it said.
"Government must act now to make it possible to deliver BECCS at all scales, or we will be left without a crucial tool for tackling climate change."
The letter was signed by Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA); Energy UK; Wood Recyclers Association (WRA); The Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE); Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA); UK Pellet Council (UK PC); and Coalition for Negative Emissions.
Commenting on the Strategy, Will Gardiner, Drax CEO, said: “We welcome the UK Government’s clear support for sustainably sourced biomass and the critical role that BECCS can play in achieving the country’s climate goals.
“The inclusion of BECCS at the top of a priority use framework is a clear signal that the UK wants to be a leader in carbon removals and Drax is ready to deliver on this ambition. We are engaged in formal discussions with the UK Government about the project and, providing these are successful, we plan to invest billions in delivering BECCS at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, simultaneously providing reliable, renewable power and carbon removals.”

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