Aston University bioenergy expert to give evidence to UK Parliament about use of sustainable timber alternative to fossil fuel
  • Aston University expert to give evidence to government
  • Professor Patricia Thornley is expert on bioenergy
  • It can deliver net greenhouse gas reductions when replacing fossil fuels.

A leading bioenergy expert from Aston University will be giving evidence to Parliament about the use of sustainable timber in the UK as an alternative fossil fuel.

Professor Patricia Thornley, director of the University’s Energy and Bioproducts Institute (EBRI), will be giving oral evidence about how the UK could increase its supply of sustainable timber for biomass, a renewable energy source.
Bioenergy is produced from wood, plants and other organic matter, such as manure or household waste. It releases carbon dioxide when burned, but this carbon has recently been sequestered from the atmosphere and so it can deliver net greenhouse gas reductions when replacing fossil fuels.

The Environmental Audit Committee is launching a new inquiry into the potential to scale up timber production in the UK to create a sustainable and resilient home-grown timber sector to help meet future demands, including for biomass. 

The inquiry will also explore the degree to which UK supply chains contribute to deforestation overseas, the effectiveness of the Government’s efforts to curb this and how the UK works with international partners to tackle deforestation.

Professor Thornley leads the UK’s national bioenergy research programme, SUPERGEN Bioenergy hub. Her research focuses on assessing the sustainability of bioenergy and low carbon fuels.

She has been invited to answer questions about the sustainability of biomass derived from forests at a committee hearing on 26 October.

Professor Thornley said: “I am delighted to have been asked to speak at the inquiry. 

“There are many misconceptions about biomass sustainability and it is important that we seize the opportunities to use sustainable biomass to deliver net greenhouse gas reductions for the UK and the planet. 

“That requires having the right checks and mechanisms in place and monitoring the impact of biomass deployment. 
“Our research has focused on evaluating those impacts for a huge array of different biomass and technology options, so I welcome the opportunity to share our insights with the Committee.”

The Committee's remit is to determine if official policy helps to protect the environment, and to check if the government is reaching its sustainability and environmental protection targets.

Environmental Audit Committee chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said: “Forests around the world are the lungs of the planet, locking in damaging carbon and breathing out oxygen. Global deforestation is threatening this: it destroys precious biodiversity and is one of the greatest threats to warding off runaway climate change. Yet here in the UK we continue to import over 80% of timber, some of which is from nations that have damaging track records of deforestation.

“We must make sure the domestic timber industry is fit for the future and can support our net zero ambitions, while better understanding the impact any imports have on the wider world. This follows up our earlier report on the UK’s footprint on global biodiversity, where we called on the government to assess accurately the environmental impact of the UK’s consumption of key commodities.

“I invite anyone with views on global deforestation, and how UK woodland creation can contribute sustainably to meeting increasing demand in the UK timber sector, to respond to our inquiry.” 

Professor Thornley is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and her research focuses on assessing the sustainability of bioenergy and low carbon fuels. She is also an appointed member of the Scientific Advisory Council for the Department for Transport, the energy working group supporting HM Treasury green technical advisory group, Defra’s tree and woodland Scientific Advisory group, the National Farmers’ Union Net Zero Advisory Board, and Industrial Decarbonisation of Industrial Clusters independent advisory board.

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Notes to Editors


About Supergen Bioenergy Hub

The Supergen Bioenergy Hub works with academia, industry, government and societal stakeholders to develop sustainable bioenergy systems that support the UK’s transition to an affordable, resilient, low-carbon energy future.

The hub is based at Aston University under the direction of Professor Patricia Thornley, and management is undertaken by representatives of the core academic institutions.

The hub is funded jointly by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is part of the wider Supergen Programme.

Follow us on Twitter @SuperBioHub

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About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston University is a long-established university led by its three main beneficiary groups – students, business and the professions, and the West Midlands region and wider society. Located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city, the campus houses all the University’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Aleks Subic is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

 Aston University is ranked 22 in the Guardian University Guide, based on measures including entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. The Aston Business School MBA programme was ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking.

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