- New strategy outlines role of biomass in UK’s transition to net zero, with sustainability as major theme
- Supergen Bioenergy Hub experts worked with government departments to provide scientific evidence and insight
- They welcome the holistic view of sustainability in the Biomass Strategy and call for action to deliver its ambitions.
A group of bioenergy experts have welcomed the Government’s new UK Biomass Strategy, but say urgent action is now vital to shape its ambitions into deliverable policies.
Researchers at the Supergen Bioenergy Hub - led by Aston University - worked closely with government departments to provide scientific evidence to inform the strategy, which outlines the role biomass will play in supporting the UK’s transition to net zero and how this will be achieved.
Professor Patricia Thornley, who leads the Hub, says: “This is a comprehensive and considered biomass strategy that, rightly, places sustainability at the heart of UK bioenergy development. The challenge is now to produce actions that can deliver the sustainable system of biomass required to achieve net zero.”
Sustainability is a major theme within the new strategy. It includes a review of how existing sustainability policies could be improved, as well as a commitment to developing a cross-sectoral sustainability framework (subject to consultation) to ensure sustainability across the many different applications of biomass. This follows previous work led by Dr Mirjam Rӧder, Systems Topic Group Lead in the Supergen Bioenergy Hub, calling for harmonised sustainability standards across different biomass applications, which is referenced in the strategy.
Dr Rӧder says: “We need rigorous approaches to sustainability governance that go beyond emissions. Considering wider environmental, social and economic trade-offs is essential for true sustainability and building trust in bioenergy projects.”
The strategy considers the amount of biomass resource that might be available to the UK in the future, highlighting the importance of both imported and domestically produced biomass resources. Professor Thornley comments: “It is important that the strategy recognises the potential of imported as well as indigenous biomass in achieving global greenhouse gas reductions. Sustainable systems should grow, convert and use biomass in the locations where they can deliver most impact, ensuring we take account of all supply chain emissions. We shouldn’t shy away from imports where the source is sustainable and the overall system makes environmental, economic and social sense.”
The strategy also considers how biomass should be prioritised across a variety of applications to best support the transition to net zero. Biomass applications ranging from transport fuels and hydrogen to domestic and industrial heating are recognised as important, but in the medium to long term the focus is on integration of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
BECCS is an emerging technology where the CO2 that may be released during the production and use of electricity, fuels or products derived from biomass is captured and stored, potentially resulting in negative emissions.
Professor Thornley comments: “The priority use framework outlined in the Biomass Strategy makes eminent sense. The UK (and the global energy system) needs carbon dioxide removals to deliver net zero. BECCS has an absolutely key role to play, as reflected in the strategy. Again, while this is encouraging to see, we must not underestimate the challenges of moving towards such a radically different system at scale.”
“Relying on future BECCS deployment alone to counterbalance the current excess of greenhouse gas emissions would not enable the full potential and benefits of BECCS. BECCS should be deployed alongside measures to transition away from the use of fossil fuels, not instead of them,” adds Dr Joanna Sparks, Biomass Policy Fellow at the Supergen Bioenergy Hub, who engaged closely with government departments as they developed the strategy.
Dr Sparks led an extensive policy engagement and knowledge transfer process to ensure that those developing the strategy had full access to the breadth and depth of UK scientific and engineering academic expertise, ensuring a robust, independent scientific base.
Professor Thornley believes continued engagement between policymakers, academics and the wider sector is vital in achieving the next steps in the delivery of the Government’s strategy. She says: “The key to successful long-term results is a close partnership between academia, industry and policy stakeholders so that we can anticipate problems and plan the pathways to success.”
- Notes to Editors
1. The Supergen Bioenergy Hub, based at Aston University 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. This is supported through the Hub’s whole system research approach that encompasses all aspects of bioenergy expertise to identify pathways for delivering bioenergy with wider social, economic and environmental benefits.
2. A key role for the Supergen Bioenergy Hub in the development of the strategy has been to provide independent academic advice to inform policy and decision-making, through written evidence, stakeholder engagement, membership of advisory boards, themed workshops and one-to-one meetings. Two Supergen Bioenergy Hub reports are cited within the strategy:
Supergen Bioenergy Hub and Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership Collaboration Project Report: Harmonising greenhouse gas and sustainability criteria for low-carbon transport fuels, bioenergy and other bio-based sectors
3. Professor Thornley sat on the working group for the ‘Task and Finish Group Report: The ability for BECCS to generate negative emissions’ published by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s Chief Scientific Adviser alongside the Biomass Strategy.
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Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston 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.
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