The majority of future biomass feedstock is likely to be imported from North American forests

Biomass carbon calculator to help developers source sustainably

A new tool for calculating the impact on carbon emissions of biomass sourced from North America to produce electricity has been released by Decc.

Decc claims that a large proportion of the biomass feedstock used for electricity generation in the UK in 2020 is likely to be imported from North American forests and the Bioenergy Emissions and Counterfactual Model has been designed to allow developers to make sure they are sourcing their biomass responsibly.

By 2020 biomass could account for about 20 per cent of the electricity generated in the UK, according to Decc, but from next year generators will lose financial support if they are unable to comply with sustainability criteria announced in August 2013 that the Government claims are among the strictest in the world.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: “In the short term, biomass can help us decarbonise our electricity supplies, and we are committed to supporting cost-effective, sustainably produced biomass.

“This calculator shows that, done well, biomass can offer real carbon savings – which is why we are tightening our rules for sustainable biomass. Any producer who doesn’t meet those standards will lose financial support from next year.”

The tool looks at different scenarios for sourcing fuel from woody biomass resources in North America likely to be available for pellet production by 2020, taking into account alternative land use for each scenario, indirect impacts such as the impact of transporting the fuel.

The model is also the first published by government to take account of changes in the amount of carbon stored in forests over the lifetime of a biomass project.

Chief scientific advisor at Decc David MacKay said: “The calculator looks at the changes in the amount of carbon stored in forests in North America when assessing the benefits and impacts of various bioenergy scenarios. It gives new information about which biomass resources are likely to have higher or lower carbon intensities, and so provides insight into a complex topic.”

According to Dr Bernie Bulkin, former chair of the Office of Renewable Energy at DECC, says the tool shows the potential environmental benefits of using biomass to create energy.

“It’s a careful piece of work, that presents many different scenarios for how and where the biomass is grown, how it is transported to the UK, whether it is grown specially for this purpose or is waste, and so on,” said Bulkin, who is now director of private equity energy investor Ludgate Investments.

“Some of these turn out to be very advantageous from the carbon savings perspective, and some are terrible. We have known this instinctively for a long time but this work confirms it.  What it really shows is that if we do biomass electricity in the right way, it will make a great contribution to renewable energy in the UK, displacing coal and saving a lot of carbon emissions.

“Some people will undoubtedly pick up on the ‘bad’ scenarios and highlight them.  This is a mistake.  What we need to do now is put in place the systems and processes to make sure we achieve this in the best possible way.”

The Bioenergy Emissions and Counterfactual Model and its accompanying technical report can be found on the Decc website.

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