Biomass Strategy: Biomass feedstocks

The UK Government has published its Biomass Strategy, outlining their view on the role biomass will play in supporting the UK’s transition to net zero and how this will be achieved.

We worked closely with teams from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and other government departments to provide scientific evidence, context and insight to inform the strategy.

The information below provides context to the Biomass Strategy along with comment from lead academics in the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.

Biomass feedstocks

Biomass feedstocks include waste materials and residues, forestry material and co-products, and purpose grown crops. The strategy models the amount of sustainable biomass resource the UK could have access to in the future. Prediction of resource availability is inherently challenging and so there is still uncertainty around how much resource will be available. This was demonstrated by our previous work, which is referenced in the strategy.

Significant amounts of sustainable resource will be needed to enable the diverse roles of biomass in the energy, transport and industrial sectors and the critical negative emissions that can be achieved through BECCS. We therefore welcome the recognition that the UK will need biomass feedstocks from domestic and international sources to support its transition to net zero. Imported biomass can deliver emission reductions when used in bioenergy applications, but rigorous approaches to sustainability governance are important to ensure these benefits are achieved despite the international supply chains.

Uncertainty around the amount of biomass feedstock available from international sources means that a thriving domestic feedstock industry is critical to securing the supply the UK needs to decarbonise its economy. We are pleased that this is recognised within the strategy and that it acknowledges the need to reduce barriers to increasing domestic production of biomass. For domestic production, that needs to be achieved in the context of other uses of land and for example whilst safeguarding food production and the delivery of nature goals.

A wide range of biomass resources will be needed to meet the UK’s energy needs, including waste materials (such as animal slurries and food wastes), underutilised co-products from forestry operations (such as wood pellets made from low-value timber), and dedicated energy crops (such as Miscanthus and short rotation coppice willow), and potentially novel feedstocks. We are pleased that the Biomass Strategy recognises the need to utilise the full range of these biomass feedstocks whilst also delivering a clear message on the need for a sustainability framework that recognises both greenhouse gas emissions and wider societal and ecosystem service impacts.

The Supergen Bioenergy Hub has highlighted the role dedicated perennial energy crops such as Miscanthus, short rotation coppice (SRC), and short rotation forestry (SRF) can play in delivering environmental services, such as reducing flood risk or helping to restore degraded farmland. The recognition of this within the strategy is particularly welcome. Previous work carried out by members of the Supergen Bioenergy Hub has demonstrated that it is essential that, for sustainable production, the social, environmental and economic context of where specific crops are grown is considered, both domestically and internationally. Stakeholders within this sector must ensure that the right crop is planted in the right place in order to receive societal backing, minimise negative impacts and maximise ecosystem service delivery, especially in the context of targets for biodiversity. It is therefore encouraging to see that the strategy recognises the need to consider location-specific factors when considering future deployment of perennial energy crops.

The biomass strategy shows welcome ambition for perennial energy crops to play an increased role in the critical period to 2050 but lacks clear targets for areas of planting and how this will be achieved. Increasing deployment of perennial energy crops in the UK will not be without challenges and intervention from government may be required. Previous Supergen Bioenergy Hub work has highlighted that measures to encourage increased planting of biomass crops will need to target supply, through removal of societal, policy and financial barriers to crop planting, and also stimulate demand.

The aspirations around sustainable feedstock sourcing laid out in the strategy are promising, but ultimately the challenge is now for these aspirations to be shaped into actions that deliver a secure, sustainable supply of biomass that can enable the UK to meet its net zero commitments whilst also enabling wider environmental, economic and social benefits.


Lead Author: Rob Holland, Lecturer in Natural Sciences, University of Southampton, and Topic Group Representative for Systems and Resources at the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.

Iain Donnison, Head of Department – Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences, IBERS, Aberystwyth University, and Associate Director and Lead of the Resources Topic Group at the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.

Rebecca Rowe, Terrestrial Ecologist, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Topic Group Representative for Resources and Systems at the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.

Joanna Sparks, Biomass Policy Fellow, Supergen Bioenergy Hub, Aston University


UK Biomass Availability Modelling: Scoping Report

Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS): Finding the win–wins for energy, negative emissions and ecosystem services—size matters

Land use decision-making for biomass deployment: Bridging the gap between national scale targets and field scale decisions

Marginal lands: Concept, classification criteria and management

Challenges for delivering sustainable domestic supply of biomass to support net zero

Myth-busting paper on land use: food vs fuel

Myth-busting paper: Does bioenergy cause biodiversity loss?

Biodiversity and climate change COPs – where does bioenergy fit in?

Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK

Expanding the Miscanthus market in the UK: Growers in profile and experience, benefits and drawbacks of the bioenergy crop

Novel Miscanthus hybrids: Modelling productivity on marginal land in Europe using dynamics of canopy development determined by light interception

The financial and environmental consequences of renewable energy exclusion zones

Putting bioenergy with carbon capture and storage in a spatial context: what should go where?

Consensus, uncertainties and challenges for perennial bioenergy crops and land use

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