The United Kingdom Government has recently published its Biomass Strategy for 2023, a comprehensive document aimed at outlining the role of biomass in the country’s transition to a net-zero economy. A key aspect of this strategy is the strong focus on Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which is seen as a pivotal technology for decarbonising multiple sectors. This blog post aims to synthesise the most crucial elements of this strategy, shedding light on its commitments, the concerns it raises, and the implications for the UK’s clean energy transition.
Key Takeaways from the Strategy
Role of Biomass in the UK’s Energy Mix
Biomass currently accounts for 11% of the UK’s electricity supply and is viewed as a critical player in decarbonising various sectors, including power, heat, and transport. The strategy aims to leverage biomass through the use of BECCS, with ongoing work to develop business models for this technology.
Commitment to BECCS
BECCS technology captures and stores carbon dioxide from biomass while producing low-carbon energy. The UK Government aims to scale up the use of BECCS as part of its commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This commitment aligns with other policy frameworks, such as the Powering up Britain Strategy, and the UK’s Hydrogen Strategy.
The strategy also commits to holding consultations in 2024 to develop a cross-sectoral sustainability framework. Given the somewhat controversial nature of biomass due to its potential impact on biodiversity and food security, the focus on sustainability is paramount.
Short, Medium, and Long-term Goals
- Short-term: Continuation of facilitating sustainable biomass deployment through incentives and requirements.
- Medium-term: Further development of biomass in power, heat and transport sectors by 2035 to align with the UK’s sixth Carbon Budget.
- Long-term: Envision full-scale biomass use combined with BECCS by 2050 as one of the most sustainable approaches to achieving the net-zero target.
Concerns and Criticisms
The most contentious issue surrounding biomass has been its sustainability. Critics have questioned whether biomass could ever be sourced sustainably, given the risks and uncertainties related to supply and its environmental impact.
Questions Yet to be Answered
The government’s approach leaves some questions unanswered, including:
- Will the biomass criteria be strengthened to ensure only sustainable biomass and food stocks are used?
- How will BECCS technology be adequately promoted alongside the use of biomass to ensure negative emissions and support for the net-zero transition?
Academic and Industrial Perspectives
The Biomass Strategy has received positive feedback from academics and industry experts, who see it as an ambitious document with a strong commitment to sustainability. They also highlight the importance of ongoing research and innovation to unlock the potential of biomass for net-zero.
The UK’s Biomass Strategy 2023 lays the groundwork for a more sustainable, cleaner future. However, achieving its goals will require ongoing research, public and private investment, and a concerted effort to address sustainability concerns. As the strategy evolves, it will be crucial to continue scrutinising it to ensure that it aligns with the broader goals of energy security, sustainability, and the drive towards a net-zero economy.