Aberystwyth University scientists have welcomed the UK Government’s Biomass Strategy as an important moment in the transition to a net zero economy.
Biomass already produces over 12 per cent of the UK’s energy supply.
The Department of Energy Security and Net Zero’s new strategy outlines the role biomass can play in reaching net zero and plans for further action.
Researchers at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) are involved in several projects that are helping to develop the biomass crops of the future.
This includes work on Miscanthus crop science and plant breeding that has produced the world’s first new varieties registered for biomass production.
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of IBERS at Aberystwyth University, commented: “We welcome the new Biomass Strategy and its focus on the prioritisation of using biomass in those applications most suited to helping the UK reach net zero.
"Also, given the public concern about the sustainable sourcing of biomass, it is important that the strategy has covered the need for robust criteria for monitoring, verification and reporting of biomass supplies whether they are produced domestically or imported.
“This is a strategy designed to understand and stimulate industrial demand, and so it’s now crucial that policy makers and stakeholders ensure measures are in place to help meet this demand.
"The UK’s Climate Change Committee recommended that approximately 750,000 hectares of perennial biomass crops, such as Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) willow and Miscanthus, should be planted in the UK by 2050 and that this could be achieved without any impact on food production. Current planting rates are less than 1,000 hectares per year, so there is clearly much to do.
“The reason for such ambitious targets for biomass crops, is that tackling climate change not only requires a reduction in current greenhouse gas emissions, but historic ones as well. To tackle the climate emergency, we will need multiple approaches and we welcome the strategy’s emphasis on the need for a mix of greenhouse gas removal technologies too.”
Commenting on the next steps, Professor Donnison added: “Farmers and land managers have been understandably reluctant to commit to the upfront costs of planting perennial biomass crops, particularly given the uncertainty over subsidies and grants for alternatives such as tree planting. These crops offer many of the same advantages as trees, and so national governments have an opportunity to support farmers to grow them in order to meet the legally binding net zero targets as well underpinning the rural economy.
“The UK in general, and Wales in particular, has relatively small areas of high-grade agricultural land and it’s important that we continue to produce food on this land. However, land with lower margins is well suited to perennial biomass crops. These crops have wider benefits, including for biodiversity, soil carbon sequestration and flood resilience, in addition to providing feedstocks for energy and green manufacturing. So, a scaling up of biomass can help support both rural and urban economies.”