Biomass policy statement: a strategic view on the role of sustainable biomass for net-zero

Posted in: feedstocks

On 4th November, the UK Government set out the strategic aims for the role of biomass across the economy in the short, medium and long term to deliver net zero.

The UK aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The net-zero strategy, published in October 2021, described the plans to meet this target across all sectors of the UK economy. In 2022, there is to be a Biomass Strategy which will set out in detail the role of biomass in achieving the net-zero target with policies and frameworks required. In the meantime, this policy statement gives a strategic view on the role of biomass. Particular focus is on the use on biomass in areas in which decarbonization is challenging, for example the aviation industry, as well as its use in conjugation with carbon capture. There is also an emphasis on the importance of a circular economy.

The biomass feedstocks considered to be within scope are described: conventional food and feed crops; perennial energy crops (miscanthus and short rotation coppice); short rotation forestry and wastes; agricultural residues; forest residues; and residues from processing, as well as marine-based and novel feedstocks. Key take-away messages include that the UK will use only sustainable biomass, derived either from international or domestic sources: sustainable here meaning both socially and environmentally, as well as delivering genuine greenhouse gas savings across the life-cycle compared to fossil materials. An understanding of sustainable feedstock availability is also a necessity. The Biomass Availability Model estimates the potential sustainable bioenergy resource that may be available to the UK to 2050 and will be reviewed and updated. There is a focus on wastes and residues that are available, the use of which guided by waste hierarchy principles. It also recognizes that the availability of arable crops is limited, and short rotation crops provide an opportunity for energy production but requires careful mapping.

The policy paper also outlines how biomass is to be used across different sectors:

  • Electricity. Future electricity supply will likely be predominantly wind and solar, but bioenergy is an example of a technology that can provide baseload power. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommends the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). In line with this, the intention is to support CCS alongside bioenergy production.
  • Heat. Biomass use for heat is currently supported by a variety of mechanisms. Looking to the future, biomass will play a role in decarbonising properties that are unsuitable for other low-carbon technologies such as heat pumps. In addition, biomethane will be supported for injection into the gas grid and the Green Gas Support Scheme opens this year.  Low carbon hydrogen is also useful for decarbonising heat, and there are several methods of hydrogen production that utilise biomass such as gasification and reforming of biomethane, which can be coupled with CCS.
  • Transport. Biofuels are expected to play a significant role in decarbonising transport, particularly those derived from wates or residues. In the longer term, it is hoped to limit the use of biofuels to aviation.
  • Industry. Biomass can play an important role in displacing fossil fuel-heavy materials in the chemicals, materials, and manufacturing sectors. Higher value markets like fine and speciality chemicals should be considered as they maximise the extracted value from biomass. Industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology will play a part, and further support is needed to encourage the growth of the sector.

In the coming months in anticipation of the Biomass Strategy, the government intends to engage with stakeholders on how biomass can best contribute to a net-zero economy, but it is clear that the bioeconomy will play a vital role. 

For more information:

To read the policy statement, click here.

This article was written by Polly-Ann Hanson, Research Analyst at NNFCC.

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