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UK is setting an example in bioenergy, says REA

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The UK is setting an example to the rest of the world in transitioning from coal to net-zero using bioenergy, according to the authors of a new report.

‘Electric Insights: Q1 2021: Britain’s Transition from Coal to Biomass to BECCS’, an independent report by academics from Imperial College London for Drax Electric Insights, has shown that the UK is the largest user of sustainable bioenergy, which uses plant materials and organic wastes to generate renewable power.

The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Energy (REA) said BECCS will be “vital” to achieving the UK’s net-zero targets. The UK’s share of electricity generation from biomass has tripled over the last 10 years, reaching an all-time high of 11% in 2020. This means the UK has the highest share of electricity production from biomass of any large country (ones with over 100 TWh per year of electricity demand).

According to the report’s authors, Dr Nina Skorupska of the REA, and Dr Iain Staffell, Professor Richard Green, Professor Tim Green, and Dr Malte Jansen of Imperial College London, the UK has played a major role in developing the science-led sustainability criteria that govern the use of biomass.

Comparing 2012 to 2019, coal-to-biomass conversions reduced carbon emissions by 10 Mt of CO2 per year, equivalent to taking 2.17 million cars off the road every year. By the mid-2030s, BECCS could remove 40 Mt of CO2 per year from the atmosphere.

“Sustainable biomass has been key to the UK’s decarbonisation success so far and has supported the expansion of variable renewables like wind and solar,” said Skorupska.

“Negative emissions through BECCS will be vital to achieving our net-zero targets and will be delivered by building on the UK’s world-leading biomass sectors and adhering to strict science-led sustainability governance.

“We look forward to the publication of an update this summer on the upcoming Biomass Strategy, which we hope will provide a clear direction for the further development of the bioenergy sector over the coming years.”

Staffell added: “The versatility of sustainable biomass for electricity generation is an overlooked success story in the UK. It has helped the UK to rapidly decarbonise its power sector and looks set to continue to deliver key strategic benefits through BECCS and the potential for negative emissions.”