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Overview 

Bioenergy is currently the second largest source of renewable energy in the UK, generating 12.9% of the total UK electricity supply in 2021. When combined with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), bioenergy may deliver negative emissions (PN 618), which could contribute towards the UK’s legal commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Demand for biomass is expected to rise in the UK and globally to supply BECCS, transport fuels, and other materials and chemicals. The CCC recommends prioritising the most effective biomass end-uses for carbon sequestration. The UK Government is developing a ‘priority use framework’ that follows this principle and aims to ensure that biomass is targeted towards use in sectors where options for decarbonisation are limited. This framework will be explored further in the UK Government’s upcoming Biomass Strategy. 

Alongside the use of forest residues, perennial energy crops have been identified as a future source of domestic biomass as they are fast-growing and energy dense. When planted in the right context, perennial energy crops may also provide positive environmental impacts alongside social and economic co-benefits.  The expansion of domestic biomass production faces social, economic and technical challenges. Robust and transparent sustainability and land-use policy frameworks will be required in addition to targeted support schemes across multiple sectors to address these.  

Key Points 

  • Biomass, meaning organic material from living things, can be used for low-carbon energy generation. It is projected to play an important role in meeting UK net zero targets, requiring a substantial expansion in domestic production.   
  • The Climate Change Committee (CCC) expect demand for biomass in the UK to rise significantly in the coming decades to supply bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Demand is also expected to increase from other economic sectors needing biomass, such as aviation fuels. Meeting future UK biomass demand will require an expansion in domestic production to avoid increasing imports. This will require sufficient land. 
  • In addition to wastes and residues, dedicated energy crops could make a significant contribution to the domestic biomass supply and provide environmental, social and economic benefits in certain contexts. However, the expansion of UK biomass production faces social, economic and technical challenges. 
  • Stakeholders say that current policy frameworks fail to provide sufficient long-term certainty to provide confidence for potential energy crop growers. The upcoming Biomass Strategy will discuss how biomass use can best contribute towards net zero across multiple economic sectors. 

Acknowledgements   

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:  

Members of the POST Board* 

Dr Judith Ford, University of Leeds

Dr Geoff Hogan, Forest Research

Dr Jeremy Woods, Imperial College London

William Brandreth, Imperial College London

Ryan O’Shea, Imperial College London

Dr Madeleine Bussemaker, University of Surrey

Prof Gail Taylor, University of California, Davis & University of Southampton

Dr Caspar Donnison, University of California, Davis & University of Southampton*

Dr Alastair Leake, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Dr Rufus Sage, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Dr Charlotte Weaver, University of Leeds

Dr Michael Norton, EASAC*

Dr Robert Holland, University of Southampton*

Dr Gemma Delafield, University of Exeter*

Kevin Lindegaard, Crops for Energy Ltd

Prof Iain Donnison, Aberystwyth University

Dr Muhammad Naveed Arshad, Aberystwyth University

Dr Naomi Vaughan, University of East Anglia*

Dr Julia Tomei, University College London

Oliver Broad, University College London

Dr Isabela Butnar, University College London

Representatives from DraxGroup PLC*

Dr Michael Squance, Terravesta

Dr Andrew Welfle, University of Manchester

Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch

Dr Daniel Quiggin, Chatham House

Dr David Joffe, CCC

Dr Jeanette Whitaker, UK CEH*

Dr Rebecca Rowe, UK CEH*

*denotes individuals and organisations that acted as external reviews for this briefing. 


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