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Research: U.K. failing to harness its bioenergy potential

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 10:26am
Aeron Haworth, Media Relations, The Univ. of Manchester

The U.K. could generate almost half its energy needs from biomass sources, including household waste, agricultural residues and home-grown biofuels by 2050, new research suggests.

Scientists from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at The Univ. of Manchester found that the U.K. could produce up to 44% of its energy by these means without the need to import.

The study, published in Energy Policy Journal, highlights the country’s potential abundance of biomass resources that are currently underutilized and totally overlooked by the bioenergy sector. Instead, say the authors, much of the U.K. bioenergy sector is heading towards increased reliance on biomass resources that will have to be imported from abroad.

Study author Andrew Welfle said: “The U.K. has legally binding renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets, and energy from biomass is anticipated to make major contributions to these. The widely discussed barriers for energy from biomass include the competition for land that may otherwise be used to grow food and the narrative that biomass will have to be imported to the U.K. if we want to use increased levels of bioenergy. But our research has found that the U.K. could produce large levels of energy from biomass without importing resources or negatively impacting the U.K.’s ability to feed itself.”

The research involved analyzing the U.K.’s biomass supply chains and investigating how different pathways that the U.K. could take may influence the potential bioenergy that the country could generate from its own resources up to 2050.

The pathways the team analyzed included a future with economic focus, investigating how the future U.K. bioenergy sector may look if economic growth was the prime focus; a conservation focus pathway, where the conservation of resources is the key future aim; an energy focus pathway, where the U.K. pushes towards achieving the maximum practical levels of bioenergy generated from its resources; and a food focus pathway, where the potential future of the country’s bioenergy sector is analyzed in reflection of the U.K. working to increase its food security.

“Biomass residue resources from ongoing U.K. activities, such as agriculture, forestry and industrial processes, were found to represent a continuous and robust resource option for the U.K. bioenergy sector, potentially contributing up to 6.5% of primary energy demand by 2050,” said Mr Welfle. “The potential bioenergy generated from agricultural residues, particularly from straws and slurry resources, being the highlight opportunities for the bioenergy sector due to their high abundance and current underutilization.

“U.K. waste resources were also found to represent a potential major opportunity for the bioenergy sector. The research highlights that both household and food/plant waste streams represent particular potential for the sector. Although the design and influence of future strategies and policies on U.K. waste generation and management are fundamental in determining the extent of opportunities that wastes represents to the U.K. bioenergy sector.

He added: “Biomass is a flexible energy option, in that it can be used to produce heat, electricity or even be converted to transport fuels, although different types of biomass resource tend to be utilized in specific ways in order to produce the most energy or biomass-based products with increased value. Our research confirms that the best option for the UK to make the most of its biomass resources would be for selected resources to be used by bio-refineries to produce high value bio-products, with all remaining suitable resources being dedicated for heat generation.”

Source: The Univ. of Manchester

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