The UK Government’s Biomass Strategy has been unveiled today, outlining the vital role sustainable biomass is to play in the country’s energy security and net zero plans, and presenting a fantastic opportunity to UK farmers.
While acknowledging biomass as an existing “key component of our energy supply”, with bioenergy generating 11% of our electricity in 2022, the strategy highlights the “extraordinary” potential for its use in decarbonising nearly all sectors of the economy, with applications in the power, heat and transport sectors, and explains how Government intends to leverage said potential.
It also also highlights the role biomass will play in addressing hard-to-treat sectors such as sustainable aviation fuels and hydrogen production, and recognises the role of renewable liquid gases, produced from various biomass sources, in helping to decarbonise domestic heating, providing a much needed option for rural off-grid homeowners that are required to move away from fossil fuels as part of the Government’s 2026 boiler ban.
Focus on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)
The importance of BECCS, a technology that can not only provide renewable energy but also capture and permanently store CO2, is emphasised in the strategy, alongside targets to deliver 5Mt of carbon removals by 2030, potentially increasing to 23Mt by 2035 and 81Mt by 2050, with BECCS expected to facilitate the majority of these removals.
Up to 2035 Government intends to facilitate the use of biomass for power and heating, whilst supporting projects transitioning to BECCS. BECCS projects are seen as a priority use of biomass given existing generation assets with established supply chains and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology ready to be deployed.
Alongside the Strategy, Government has published an evidence-based assessment of BECCS as a route to negative emissions, setting out how “well regulated” BECCS can deliver positive outcomes for people and the environment.
Biomass sustainability and availability
A key commitment of the Biomass Strategy is to develop a cross-sectoral sustainability framework to ensure that biomass is always sustainable, whether it is from the UK or imported, taking into account the many sources, including forestry, agriculture, energy crops, waste wood and other residual waste streams. The need to scale up the domestic supply of biomass, without compromising food security is also highlighted.
Biomass availability from both UK and international sources are carefully modelled within the Strategy, stating that biomass demand for reaching the 6th Carbon Budget is “estimated to be within the range of overall biomass availability”.
Support for farmers
As per the blog Energy Now published earlier today, growers can now receive subsidy support via the Sustainable Farming Incentive, however many have called for additional support for planting and using biomass feedstocks such as Miscanthus and SRC Willow, if the country is to produce the levels required.
Reaction to the Biomass Strategy has been positive, below we outline some of the comments:
Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the REA, said:
“The Biomass Strategy is highly welcome and shows the Government’s commitment to the vital role of sustainable biomass in delivering energy security and Net Zero.
“Bioenergy is the UK’s largest source of renewable energy across power, heat and transport and the Biomass Strategy provides important confidence to these established low-carbon industries, maintaining skills, supply chains and jobs.
“In a context of increasing international competition for the green industries of the future, the Biomass Strategy provides certainty which will help drive investment in strategically important innovations including bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS), sustainable aviation fuels and bio-hydrogen production pathways.
“The UK is a world-leader in sustainable bioenergy, but urgent policy action is needed to realise opportunities across the sector. The REA welcomes and will fully engage in the upcoming consultation on a cross sector sustainability framework, ensuring sustainability governance arrangements remain world leading. Government must build on the Biomass Strategy to bring forward workable business models at all scales for critical Net Zero technologies such as BECCS; increase the ambition for bio-based heat and transport decarbonisation; as well as further supporting the scale up of innovative biomass feedstocks such as perennial energy crops.
“Biomass is one of our most versatile tools for tackling climate change, and we look forward to engaging further with Government as policy continues to develop for these crucial technologies.”
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.
“We look forward to working alongside the Government to ensure biomass is best used to contribute to net zero across the economy, through further progression of plans for BECCS and ensuring an evidence-driven, best practice approach to sustainability.”
Ruth Herbert, Chief Executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) said:
“Capturing carbon produced from burning biomass is an important part of the carbon removal toolkit to remove greenhouse gases from our environment, particularly for hard-to-decarbonise sectors like agriculture and aviation. It will help ensure we can protect jobs, maintain important industries and deliver our net-zero ambitions.
“BECCS is one part of the suite of carbon capture and storage solutions that has the potential to underpin the next industrial revolution. We urgently need HM Treasury to set out further detail on the scale and 5ming of support to BECCS and other potential carbon capture sites. Failure to act this Autumn would risk undermining investor confidence in the UK while others such as the United States race ahead in the development of this vital technology.”
Richard Coulson, Chair of the Wood Recyclers Association, said:
“We welcome this strategy which re-affirms the government’s commitment to sustainable biomass among the wider energy mix and recognises the important role that waste wood biomass can play.
“Biomass powered by waste wood not only delivers reliable, renewable baseload power but, by using domestic waste as a fuel, prevents greenhouse gas emissions from landfill.”
Dr Becky Wheeler, Chair of the REA’s Organics Forum, and head of Business Development at Future Biogas said:
“The use of biomass feedstocks within both bioenergy and the wider circular economy must also consider interactions with waste policy, ensuring the best use of resources. It is encouraging that the Biomass Strategy recognises these interactions, while also referencing impacts on the circular economy in the criteria for determining the Biomass Priority Use Framework. The strategy also acknowledges the need for biomethane BECCS to facilitate decarbonisation of UK agriculture and recognises the importance of soil health.
“However, the strategy is also a reminder of how delayed the implementation of the resources and waste strategy policy reforms are. Despite the Environment Act laid in 2021 mandating the separate collection of food waste from households and businesses and the separate collection of garden waste from households, we are still awaiting the secondary legislation to implement this. Similarly, biodegradable material is not expected to be banned from landfill until 2028. These policies must be prioritised in order to make the most of our resources both for the production of compost, and where appropriate, bioenergy production.”
The Biomass Strategy is available to download from the Government’s website