The role for bioenergy in decarbonising the UK energy system

Published: 5 November 2018

Delivered by Energy Systems Catapult, the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has reviewed its 10 year bioenergy programme and recommends an increase in biomass production and the creation of the right environment to advance bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as a core component in a push to a low and net zero carbon UK.

The recently updated Clockwork and Patchwork scenarios, two plausible pathways for the UK to meet its 2050 climate targets cost-effectively, identified bioenergy as economically important to a low carbon transition. This transition can happen without large scale bioenergy but it will be more expensive (potentially up to £200bn).

This report, written by the Energy Systems Catapult on behalf of the ETI reviews the outputs of the ETI technology programme and illustrates the value of bioenergy when combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to deliver negative emissions (the net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere) alongside the production of power or hydrogen.

BECCS delivers negative emissions by using biomass to generate energy, capturing the CO2 emissions from combustion and permanently holding them in geological storage. ETI analysis shows that producing electricity or hydrogen using BECCS technologies can maximise the potential percentage of CO2 that could be captured. Because of this, the ETI believes that BECCS becomes increasingly important beyond 2050 as the world works towards becoming ‘net zero’. Without negative emissions, achieving a UK “net zero” emissions target will require the prohibition of certain industrial activities and lifestyle choices or the reliance on imported carbon credits from other countries.

The report also recommends that the UK looks to increase biomass production and the supply of sustainable biomass for bioenergy in the UK, with earlier ETI project work demonstrating the potential for up to 1.4 Mha of second-generation crops to be planted without detriment to current levels of food production.

The ETI warns that by constraining biomass resource availability, the total cost of decarbonisation to the country will rise, requiring more expensive measures to be taken in other parts of the energy system to continue to meet emissions targets. Currently, the Contracts for Difference scheme is the only policy support mechanism for new biomass to power technologies. It has so far only been awarded to 1,671 MW of biomass and waste technologies, with the next auction expected to take place in May 2019.