Biomass Strategy: Sustainability

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.

Sustainability in the Biomass Strategy

As the world faces an ever-growing threat of climate change, the need for sustainable, renewable energy sources has become paramount. Biomass can help in mitigating carbon emissions and paving the way for a sustainable energy transition. As plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, effectively capturing and storing carbon. When biomass or biofuels are used for energy or bio-based products are broken down, this carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere again. However, there are also emissions associated with other parts of the biomass value chain, such as feedstock production and transport. The balance of the emissions throughout the value chain and the carbon dioxide sequestered during biomass growth determines the net emissions of the system. Approaches to sustainability governance that account for the emissions along the whole value chain are therefore important to ensure that bioenergy systems deliver real emissions reductions.

Considering wider environmental, social and economic trade-offs is essential for true sustainability and building trust in bioenergy projects. We therefore need rigorous approaches to sustainability governance that go beyond emissions. We are pleased to see the Biomass Strategy’s ambition to develop a more holistic approach to ensuring sustainability, where both carbon and non-carbon risks and benefits for society, the environment and the economy are assessed and accounted for.

Supergen Bioenergy Hub research has demonstrated that sustainability of bioenergy may be assessed across more than 100 different sustainability indicators, far more than those historically targeted through UK bioenergy policies, where carbon and biodiversity are prioritised. We are pleased to see this acknowledged within the strategy and we welcome further work to broaden sustainability frameworks and encourage best practice.

The strategy includes a review of existing sustainability governance approaches and how they might be strengthened, referencing the report led by Dr Mirjam Rӧder, Systems Topic Group Lead in the Supergen Bioenergy Hub, on the need for harmonised approaches to sustainability standards across different biomass applications and the need to go beyond greenhouse gas emissions. We wholeheartedly welcome the commitment to developing a cross-sectoral sustainability framework to ensure sustainability across the many different applications of biomass, and we look forward to contributing to the consultation that will inform this.

The UK is well placed in both expertise and international networks to lead the way on sustainability performance, and we look forward to continuing our work with government on this.

Authors

Lead Author: Mirjam Röder, Associate Professorial Research Fellow at Aston University and Lead on Systems in the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.

Patricia Thornley, Director of the Supergen Bioenergy Hub and Energy Bioproducts Research Institute, Aston University.

Andrew Welfle, Senior Research Fellow, University of Manchester and Topic Group Representative for Vectors and Resources of the Supergen Bioenergy Hub.

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

Resources

Harmonising greenhouse gas and sustainability criteria for low-carbon transport fuels, bioenergy and other bio-based sectors

Mapping the sustainability of bioenergy to maximise benefits, mitigate risks and drive progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainability of Bioenergy – Mapping the Risks & Benefits to Inform Future Bioenergy Systems

Supergen Bioenergy Hub Case Studies Report: Developing the UK Bioenergy Sector to Enable the Transition to a Sustainable Bioeconomy and Low-Carbon Future

Supergen Bioenergy Hub Bioeconomy Sustainability Indicator Model (BSIM)

Myth-busting paper: Is bioenergy carbon neutral?

Carbon balance animation

Blog: A question of sustainability

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