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12 Dec 2012 10:12:58

New report by NNFCC highlights the importance of biomass in power production

A new briefing report by bioeconomy consultants NNFCC says biomass can deliver cost-effective, low-carbon energy that delivers real and meaningful environmental and economic benefits, but warns that the way we calculate these benefits needs to be more transparent and robust.

By the end of the decade 15 per cent of the energy supplied in the UK must come from renewable sources. Biomass is expected to play a crucial role in delivering low carbon heat, power and transportation fuel to support this goal. In fact, the UK Bioenergy Strategy – published in April 2012 – outlines how bioenergy could deliver up to 11 per cent of the UK's primary energy demand by 2020.

Furthermore, biomass will continue to play an important role in energy production until at least 2050, according to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). However, there is some uncertainty as to whether bioenergy is the most appropriate technology to help deliver cost-effective and low carbon electricity.

Dr Matthew Aylott, author of the new briefing report which discusses the issues relating to the production of electricity from biomass, said: "Biomass is a flexible and baseload source of low-carbon power – meaning it can regulate the national grid and deliver energy on-demand, this makes it hugely important to the future of UK electricity production."

"Many sources of biomass used in the production of electricity are not only cleaner than coal, they also offer wider economic benefits, but bioenergy is also complex and no two sources of biomass are the same. We need open discussion and robust methods for calculating the net environmental and economic benefits from different sources of bioenergy," he added.

The report discusses the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from biomass used in the production of electricity (specifically forest thinnings and whole trees); relating these to 'carbon payback' and 'carbon debt'. The briefing also looks at the wider benefits and implications of the developing bioenergy power market, including its impact on the price of wood and jobs.

The report concludes that bioenergy does have an important role to play in delivering low-carbon, cost-effective, flexible and baseload power. Furthermore, bringing neglected woodland back into management and actively managing forests to produce both useful products and biomass for heat and power production can actually increase carbon stocks and make forests more economically productive.

However, it is important that the anticipated increase in biomass production for the electricity market is done sustainably. Industry must continue to work with government to ensure bioenergy is effective in meeting its goals, namely reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, delivering economic benefits and decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

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