Bioenergy and biofuels key to low-carbon future, scientist argues

Holz pellets, By Amaza (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Holz pellets, By Amaza (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

A scientist from the University of Manchester has argued that developing a modern bioenergy and biofuels system “has huge potential for providing sustainable, low-carbon energy facilitating a range of key sustainable development goals.”

Dr Mirijam Roeder is a scientist from the University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil Engineering and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. In a new expert comment published by the university, she outlines why bioenergy has a key role to play as a renewable energy source for a carbon neutral future.

Highlighting the enormous potential of bioenergy, she notes that the UK alone could generate up to 44% of its energy from biomass sources such as household waste and agricultural residues by 2050.

Dr Roeder also points out that the UK’s already well-established gas grid could easily accommodate biogas instead of its fossil fuel counterparts. In terms of industrial processes, she observes that bioenergy is capable of supplying heat “which other renewables might not be able to.”

 

Meeting the challenges of the transport sector

“There is a big push for electrification of transport, but biofuels and biogas could also play an important role in decarbonising the transport sector, especially public transport,” Dr Roeder writes.

“It could revolutionise Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) haulage and travel, aviation and shipping. That’s because other renewable sources could struggle to provide the technologies at the required size and scale needed to support major transport networks.”

Another crucial benefit of bioenergy Dr Roeder highlights is its ability to “take carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Dr Roeder explains: “This is because many forms of biofuel involve crops, trees and plants and all of these need CO2 for photosynthesis. That is why all the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) scenarios that keep the planet below the 2°C global warming target have massive amounts of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).”

Acknowledging that there are question marks surrounding bioenergy’s sustainability credentials, she suggests that strict criteria need to be implemented to ensure that only biomass with the lowest carbon impact is used.

 

The University of Manchester is part of The Supergen Bioenergy Hub, which fosters an interdisciplinary approach to bioenergy by bringing together industry, academia and other key stakeholders to ensure “bioenergy has a sustainable future and a renewable tomorrow.”

Holz pellets, By Amaza (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons