Innovation Will See Biomass Develop

For biomass to meet stringent sustainability targets, innovation will be key.
Published: Sun 25 May 2014

The UK could generate almost half its energy needs from biomass sources, including household waste, agricultural residues and home-grown biofuels by 2050.

This is according to research, carried out by scientists from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at The University of Manchester, which shows the UK can produce up to 44% of its energy from biomass sources without having to import.

The study points to the country’s potential abundance of biomass resources that are currently underutilized and totally overlooked by the bioenergy sector.

Currently, much of the UK bioenergy sector is heading towards increased reliance on biomass resources that will have to be imported.

New approach needed

For the UK biomass sector to harness the source’s full potential, whilst meeting the stringent new sustainability and reporting criteria introduced on 1 April 2014, a new approach will be needed in order to manage feedstock supply chains.

This is according to Stuart Campbell, director at Savills Energy and biomass and waste-to-energy expert. He explains that understanding the implications and security of the widening supply chain will be key for the on-going development of viable biomass projects in the UK. He says that this is especially relative since there may be a change in government subsidies in the future.

All generating plants, with an output of 1MW and above using solid biomass, now have to submit an annual independent audit report which assesses compliance against strict sustainability criteria. The greenhouse gas lifestyle criteria ensure that biomass delivers savings against fossil fuel while the land use criteria specify that forests are managed sustainably. However, explains Mr Campbell, with greater emphasis on the sustainability of feedstock, the supply chain is coming under increasing scrutiny. Critics are sceptical and are asking whether sustainability and security of supply can be guaranteed.

Challenging supply chain

Research commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in 2013, focusing on biomass supply chain infrastructure, reveals that the UK power sector will need 23 million tonnes of feedstock by 2020. Despite significant investment in recent years, the supply chain remains challenging, with costly financial implications in the case of failure.

Mr Campbell expands on the issue, “Despite the potential impact of a feedstock failure, traditional business interruption insurance does not cover many of the risks a biomass supply chain may face. This issue has become more acute as heat off-take and the consequential contractual obligations have become more relevant.”

Perceived risks hold back expansion

He adds that the perceived feedstock supply chain risk has held back biomass expansion, while the development of new plants has been hindered over concerns around sustainable supply. “To keep the biomass sector moving, an innovative approach to supply chain risk is required.”

Savills Energy has been working closely with the insurance sector to find a solution to lessen the risk in the market place, thereby regaining investor confidence.

By pre-empting and managing the financial implications of feedstock supply chain failure better and more proactively, the potential in new and existing bioenergy projects will be unlocked. This will also serve to support the UK’s obligations under the Renewable Energy Directive, create employment and boost and economic growth.

Further reading

Science Direct-Securing a bioenergy future without imports