Support for UK bioenergy is gathering pace. On Energy Day at COP26, the government issued a Biomass Policy Statement (BPS) which recognises the role bioenergy plays in delivering both global and UK net zero targets.
It’s been issued alongside the recent biomass call for evidence to help develop policies to support the growth of the biomass sector, and these will inform the Biomass Strategy, due to be released in late 2022.
Also this year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) awarded £4 million of funding for the project development stage of the Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, with up to £200,000 of funding per project. Successful initiatives include research into Miscanthus, Short Rotation Coppice (Willow), ‘semi-wild’ crops, forestry, hemp and algae.
A project to facilitate more planting of Miscanthus was awarded £150,000 of funding through this Biomass Innovation Programme, to help contribute to 2050 net zero targets.
Miscanthus specialist, Terravesta, has been successful in its bid to secure Phase 1 funding for its OMENZ project which stands for ‘Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanisation and data capture to meet Net Zero targets’.
According to Terravesta, success in Phase 1 will enable upscaling to contribute to the recommendation from the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon budget in Phase 2. To fulfill the need of planting at least 30,000 hectares a year by 2035, so that 700,000 hectares are planted by 2050.
And speaking at COP26 in a fringe panel event hosted by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) and the National Farmers Union (NFU) on 10th November, Terravesta chairman, William Cracroft-Eley, discussed the exciting potential for Miscanthus and other Perennial Energy Crops (PECs) in not only reaching net zero, but providing exciting opportunities for land-based sectors.
“The next two decades will see the revelation of the most sensational and exciting bio-industrial revolution. It will re-shape and redefine our industrial platforms in a way that today seems hard to imagine,” he said.
William explained that new products and technologies associated with PECs continue to emerge, but plenty, developed over the last decade, are ready to go. “The transformation from first to next generation technologies will see bioenergy as a product or bi-product in a cascade of products from the same feedstock raw material.
“In this context, only very fast-growing perennial biomass crops, such as Miscanthus or SRC, offer the opportunity to deliver the feedstocks demanded by this rapidly emerging sector, in a way that is, consistent, scaleable, auditable, absorbs CO2, is high yielding, and delivers multiple upstream environmental gains on the land,” he said.
William said that Miscanthus has the ability to sequester 2.35 tonnes of CO2 per ha per annum, it has low inputs of fertiliser, chemicals, and power, enabling an opportunity to genuinely reduce whole farm emissions.
“It’s helping to decarbonise the agriculture and land use sector, and potentially generates a carbon income, it encourages biodiversity, particularly in soil organisms and invertebrates, but also birds and mammals that feed on them or use the crops for shelter. As well as additional benefits such as flood alleviation, erosion/pollution prevention, soil decontamination and soil life restoration.”
William argued that the events of this autumn, where renewable generation fell due to less favourable conditions, particularly for wind, meaning fossil fuel generation increased, have graphically illustrated the need for demand responsive power generation, and it is not good enough to fall back on fossil fuels for this. “Undoubtedly bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage fills this space, but, more than this, creates an opportunity for emissions negative generation.
“What is for sure is that none of this will take off without feedstocks, and to that end we need government and DEFRA to get off the fence and promote them in the same way as they are promoting other low carbon agriculture and land use measures, and do it now,” added William.
In an industry first, farmers considering planting the carbon negative crop Miscanthus can now benefit from a finance package to cover virtually all upfront costs for crop establishment, as well as new direct, long-term offtake agreements with end-users, with 10–15-year index-linked annual returns. Oxbury Bank is working in partnership with Terravesta, to deliver the new finance package, which is supporting farmers to plant and establish the crop.