UK should make more use of biomass to meet emissions reductions targets

A report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) has said the Government should make better use of biomass as a CHP fuel to meet its Kyoto targets. Farm and forestry waste, as well as 'energy crops' should be grown to provide heat and power, the report says.

Biomass is largely carbon neutral, the report says, as the plants grown for fuel absorb CO2 as they grow. It could also transform the face of the countryside as the report recommends planting as much as seven million, of the 17 million hectares of agricultural land available in the UK, with biomass crops such as willow and poplar. Biomass can also make use of farm waste products such as straw.

The Royal Commission claims that biomass has a natural advantage over most other forms of renewable energy in that it can be stored and used on demand. It is also inherently flexible, says the report, 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 report criticises Government policy for focusing capital grants schemes for biomass initiatives on high-tech approaches to electricity generation with a view to export development, rather than on reliable, proven technology.

"We think the UK should focus on low-tech solutions with technology that is known to work, as they do in Europe," Rhian Enright, Policy Analyst at the RCEP told edie. "Concentrating funds only on new technology and demonstration plants restricts the sector and only leads to failures."

Ms Enright highlighted the example of the Project ARBRE (Arable Biomass Renewable Energy) plant in Yorkshire. This used brand new technology and focused on producing only electricity rather than combined heat and power, and was crucially too far from potential users to be effective.

She told edie that biomass CHP plants would be better on smaller, local scales, for housing projects and public buildings such as hospitals, and could easily serve as an integral part of John Prescott's "sustainable communities" programme. In this way they could meet local needs using local materials, benefiting both suppliers and users.

The RCEP report calls for biomass fired CHP in all new-build development; a new renewable heat obligation that would encourage the use of renewable energy to generate heat as well as electricity; and the formation of a new government/industry biomass forum.

Speaking at the launch of the RCEP report, Commission Chair Tom Blundell, said: "The use of biomass has benefits not only for climate change but also offers new opportunities for UK agriculture and forestry and increases the security of the UK's energy supply. Government policies so far have failed to integrate the supply chain and support viable technologies. I am disappointed that energy from biomass has not developed as quickly in the UK as elsewhere in Europe."

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner, Bryony Worthington said: "This Government is failing to promote the use of renewable biomass, has watered down plans to put carbon dioxide pollution caps on industry, is allowing road traffic to rise, and rubber stamped plans for a massive expansion in air travel. Little wonder that carbon dioxide levels grew last year. Its time the Government took this issue seriously and introduced effective measures across the board before it is too late."

By David Hopkins



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