In addition, the government hopes it will give a boost to farming, forestry and the rural economy.

Former National Farmer’s Union leader Sir Ben Gill will lead the taskforce’s one year study, with John Roberts, chief executive of United Utilities and Nick Hartley of OXERA Consulting.

Sir Ben said he was delighted to have the opportunity to review the biomass sector. “Its potential is clear – it can make a huge contribution to important agendas for renewable energy, a critical issue within the climate change issue. But, biomass struggles to make progress. With the team, I intend to define why and then look at what needs to be done. This study is about finding solutions and that’s what we intend to deliver.”

Food and farming Minister Larry Whitty also unveiled a £3.5 million Bio-Energy Infrastructure scheme offering grants to help harvest, store, process and supply biomass for energy production.

He said that the government agreed with the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) report in May (see related story) which stated that biomass had the potential to provide a significant contribution to the reduction of carbon dioxide levels if substituted for fossil fuels in the generation of heat and electricity.

The Royal Commission said in the report that biomass has a natural advantage over most forms of renewable energy as it could be stored and used on demand. It is also inherently flexible and can be used in small, localised scales for producing heat, or in much larger base-load power generation capacity whilst also producing heat, in CHP plants.

The RCEP report also recommended using farm and forestry waste as well as ‘energy crops’ such as willow and miscanthus. Under the new scheme these crops as well as other grasses, straw, and woodfuel, including sawdust, will be eligible for grants.

Speaking at the launch of the taskforce Lord Whitty said: “Barriers have to be overcome if we are to establish confidence in the industry, and we want to make it easier for producers to get their biomass out of the fields and forests and onto the market, to make it a viable alternative energy source. Ben Gill and his team will help us to address these issues and to maximise the contribution of biomass to our energy goals.”

Cambridge University has been commissioned to provide data on the economics of energy crops by April 2005.

By David Hopkins

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