Biomass cleaner than coal and could benefit forests

Bioenergy has an important role to play in delivering low-carbon, cost-effective, and flexible power and could benefit woodlands, according to a report by the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC).

The report, written by Dr Matthew Aylott, states that bringing neglected woodland back into management, and actively managing forests to produce both useful products and biomass for heat and power production, can increase carbon stocks and make forests more economically productive.

Published in April, the UK Bioenergy Strategy outlines how bioenergy could deliver up to 11% of the UK’s primary energy demand by 2020.

In addition, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has said that biomass will continue to play an important role in energy production until at least 2050.

However, uncertainty surrounding the appropriateness of biomass culminated last month when a report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace claimed that burning wood in power stations is worse for the climate than burning coal.

Aylott dismisses this argument in his report, claiming that many sources of biomass used in the production of electricity are not only cleaner than coal, but also offer wider economic benefits.

“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,” he added.

Aylott admitted that bioenergy is complex and no two sources of biomass are the same. It was therefore important he stressed, that the anticipated increase in biomass production for the electricity market was managed sustainably.

Industry must continue to work with government to ensure bioenergy is effective in meeting its goals, the report recommended. Reducing the reliance on fossil fuels would deliver economic benefits and decrease the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

“We need open discussion and robust methods for calculating the net environmental and economic benefits from different sources of bioenergy,” added Aylott.

Conor McGlone

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie