Bioenergy and biofuels highlighted in UK’s Clean Growth Strategy

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A plan for cutting carbon emissions while growing the economy has been released by the UK government.

‘The Clean Growth Strategy: Leading the way to a low carbon future’ has been published by Greg Clark, the UK’s Business and Energy Secretary. It highlights progress already made in the UK towards a low carbon economy, while also setting out how the ‘whole country’ can benefit from low carbon economic sources in the future.

According to a statement from the department, carbon emissions have fallen and national income risen faster and further in the UK than any other nation in the G7 since 1990.

Bioenergy and biofuels are both highlighted in the report as playing a key role in the transition away from fossil fuels, and in having potential for the future.

Sustainable biomass power stations are highlighted as an ‘Emissions removal pathway’ in the run up to 2032 in the strategy.

“Under this pathway, sustainable biomass power stations are used in tandem with CCUS [Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage] technology,” the report states.

“Carbon is removed from the atmosphere by plants (biomass) as they grow and, when the biomass is used to generate electricity, emissions are captured and stored instead of returning to the atmosphere. There is still a significant clean transition in other sectors but successful innovation in emissions removal allows more time for some of these changes.”

Hydrogen and bioenergy are pointed to as 'Clean Growth Innovation Challenges'.

“Clean fuels such as hydrogen and bioenergy could be used for transport, industry, and to heat our homes and businesses. We need to test how they work in the existing gas network, whether they can fire industrial processes, and how they could be used in domestic appliances. These options need to work as well and as cheaply as current technologies.”

The report points out that the government has already invested in researching the roles bioenergy could play in decarbonising heat and international activity. It states that initial findings from a number of studies are scheduled to be published later this year.

A key focus of the strategy is the role land should play in carbon capture and ‘enhancing natural capital.’ The government makes a clear commitment to fund larger-scale woodland production and forest creation, creating incentives to encourage planting and farming on marginal land, including for bioenergy production and agroforestry.

 
Transport

In regards to transport, the strategy sets an ambitious target for 2050.

“We want to see a near doubling of sustainable bioenergy used in the transport sector,” the report states.

Included in this is a pledge to modernise the aviation and shipping sectors. Internationally this will be done through standards and offsetting schemes, while domestically the goal will be achieved through supporting sustainable alternative fuels alongside improving efficiency and new technologies.

The report notes that the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) has driven the greater use of biofuels. Currently 3% of fuel sales in the UK are biofuels, and around 50% of that is derived from wastes. It is noted that the RTFO has stimulated around £1 billion of investment in UK biofuel production facilities, such as Argent Energy’s £75 million production plant in Cheshire which is converting sewage into biodiesel.

It is pointed out in the strategy that the government has recently announced an extension of the RTFO to include incentives for biofuel use in aviation.

 

‘Significant opportunities’

Although highlighting some potential issues with biomass and biofuels, the report largely has a positive outlook for the future of both in reducing the UK’s carbon emissions and playing a role in its economy growth into the future.

The strategy states: “Burning biomass for heat or power and biofuels for transport can create some harmful emission including Particulate Matter (PM) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). More broadly, while there are some risks, there are significant opportunities to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also reducing harmful air pollutants.”