The ETI’s whole energy system analysis shows that bioenergy should be a strong contributor to a low-carbon energy system. This is because of its versatility as a variety of feedstocks can be used to produce heat, power, liquid and gaseous fuels. This versatility is a decarbonisation strength, but how it can be used effectively depends on decisions made in the wider energy system. If carbon capture and storage (CCS) is available, then combined with bioenergy it becomes especially effective as it could deliver negative emissions, (approximately 40Mt of CO2 per year, equivalent to just under half of the UK’s emissions target in 2050) offsetting the need for more expensive interventions elsewhere in the energy system. If CCS is not available then using bioenergy to generate heat and fuels particularly in otherwise difficult to decarbonise sectors is the most effective way of reducing emissions.
Therefore, there is a strong argument for the UK to develop the role of bioenergy beyond today’s level, including the use of second generation crops to increase the use of domestically grown biomass. Failure to develop the role of bioenergy beyond today’s level would cost an additional £200bn to meet UK climate targets .
However, our research has identified some of the technical and market barriers that the UK must overcome to meet these critical targets. One solution could be to develop new markets for second generation crops by blending them with other sources of biomass. This could help to scope out alternative end uses for second generation crops and support the investment decisions of farmers, who need a reliable market to sell in to before they commit to planting.
There is also a need to reduce the variability of second generation crops through pre-processing to maintain buyer confidence. We believe from our research that if water washing can be successfully commercially demonstrated, it is likely to be a more cost-effective option than other pre-treatment options in the development of UK grown biomass.