% biomass UK 2020: 7.6%
Lifecycle emission: 230g/ CO2kWh (dedicated). But UKWIN has 694gCO2/kWh
BEIS has costs of new by 2030: £97 (Energy from waste with CHP), £142 (Anaerobic), £166 (CHP), £205 (with CCS)
SAVES SOME EMISSIONS FROM ROT, PREVENTS SEQUESTRATION FROM TREES
What is Biomass?
The New Energy Foundation (NEF) defines biomass as “Biomass is a collective term for all plant and animal material. A number of different forms of biomass can be burned or digested to produce energy.” For instance:
- wood can be used for the production of electricity, with a combustion plant (where the material is burned to produce steam).
- energy crops grown specifically for the production of energy
- municipal and industrial waste – inc waste food and waste wood
- by-products of conventional agricultural activity eg straw, slurry ‘digested’ to produce methane in a process known as anaerobic digestion(for both heat and electricity.)
Where biomass produces heat as well as electricity it is called Combined Heat and Power (CHP). Where the carbon emissions from burning biomass are captured and stored it is called Biomass Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) or CCS.
Is Biomass renewable?
“Biomass is a renewable fuel as long as it comes from sustainable sources such as: forest residues, tree surgery waste, energy crops, agricultural waste and other wood residues (such as sawdust)“, according to NEF. Biomass from dead wood can be counted as ‘renewable’ where new trees are grown and where the emissions from rot are avoided.
Planting new trees replaces some sequestration but only over many years, whilst the emissions from burning the pellets are being added to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere during that time. Drax calls its biomass from forests ‘renewable’ despite the long delay in replenishing tree sequestration “Renewable energy is produced from a resource that is infinite or can be replenished on a human timescale, such as the sun, wind, water or sustainably managed forests.”
The Guardian says that a flaw in the EU renewable energy directive of 2009 meant that woody biomass was categorised as renewable, even if it came not just from wood residues or waste, but consisting of pellets made from whole trees. Such deforestation reduces sequestration of carbon and long journeys to UK power stations also make it high carbon.”
The UK accepts all these types of biomass as ‘renewable’ for all official purposes eg BEIS’ Energy Trends Dec 2020 with Bioenergy as renewable. And electricity suppliers classify electricity from biomass as ‘100% Green’ when they are making claims to be green.
UK Support for Biomass.
Biomass for hydrogen to even out peaks and troughs. The UK’s 10 Point Plan – a Green Industrial Revolution of Nov 2020 advocated the use of bioenergy for the production of low-carbon hydrogen for storage, and release in times of shortage, “Hydrogen can be produced in the UK in a range of low-carbon ways…. or with CCS applied to fossil gas or biomass.”
The CCC says in“ Sector Summary Fuel Supply the details of the government’s biomass strategy, due in 2022, will be “critical”. …. It assumes that “80% of bioenergy used in the UK will need to be linked to CCS by 2050” so a “significant investment programme will be required, with construction of new bioenergy facilities with CCS occurring in the late 2020s and early 2030s, across multiple end-use sectors – transport fuels, hydrogen, manufacturing and power”. “
It is clear (p26) “Biomass should only be used in energy applications with CCS (i.e. BECCS)” and (p10) “BECCS has the net effect of removing CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.”
The Carbon Brief’s The UK must cut emissions by 78% to be on course for net zero of Dec 2020 says “without safeguards, large-scale harvesting of biomass can both be high-carbon and have substantial impacts on the provision of food, biodiversity and other sustainability concerns”. Strengthened governance is needed to manage these risks, the CCC says.”
Drax biomass plant example
Drax Power station in North Yorkshire has 4 units using biomass pellets as feedstock and 2 burning coal, due to cease in early 2021. It is the largest biomass burning plant in the world.
UK Subsidies for Drax
Biofuelwatch has a factsheet Biomass subsidies are a huge waste of money that calculates that as “ Drax Power Station alone received £789.5 million. That’s £2.1 million a day or £28.60 per household per year.
Biofuelwatch quotes Duncan Brack, associate fellow at the London-based thinktank Chatham House. “We’re effectively paying to increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which is an absurd use of public money.” Biofuelwatch claimed that, “in 2019, Drax alone emitted 12.8 million tonnes of CO2 from burning wood. This is more than the total amount the UK should be reducing emissions by every year to meet its carbon budgets! “
Drax wood pellets low carbon?
Drax has many statements on its web site that claim that their feedstock is “sourced from established, responsibly managed working forests in the USA, Canada, Europe and Brazil.” And its complementary web site Forest Scope says the feedstock “is largely made up of low grade wood and low value residues produced as a bi-product of the production and processing of higher value solid wood products (e.g. saw-timber for construction and furniture). It lists a number of different forest certification programmes, from different regions.
Conversely a BBC investigation revealed in May 2013 that some of the pellets produced by Drax’s main US supplier had come from clearcut ancient swamp forests in the southern US, and Enviva featured above is a Drax supplier. The Guardian, in Jan 2021 reported, with satellite imagery, on the journey from forests in Estonia, through Riga to UK power stations including Drax.
So should biomass be classified as renewable’?
Energy from Waste (EfW) – the Edmonton Incinerator example
The Best Use of waste table in the CCC’s Sector Summary Fuel Supply (p31) says that “Savings in other applications are more modest – particularly energy-from-waste power plants, as UK electricity is now lower carbon than other vectors. Use of waste in energy-from-waste plants is still just about better than landfilling today, but other routes are able to achieve higher abatement in the near-term.“
The Carbon Brief’s The UK must cut emissions by 78% to be on course for net zero of Dec 2020 says “the CCC warns that the growth in EfW plants could see the sector’s emissions rise if they continue to be built without the option of CCS available.”
Edmonton’s new energy recovery facility – waste to heat and electricity
North London Heat and Power Project (NLHPP) is the North London Waste Authority’s (NLWA) project for a new waste and incineration centre in Edmonton for the north London boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey and Islington and Waltham Forest. In April 2020 NLHPP announced “The new Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) will safeguard against landfill use in the future. It will treat non-recyclable waste as a resource for society – generating low-carbon heat and power for up to 127,000 homes.” Its FAQs says that “The current facility generates enough energy to supply 80,000 homes.” The new facility will “be capable of exporting power to the national grid and providing heat to the Meridian Water Heat Network”
Carbon intensity of the new facility. North London Waste estimates 28,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents each year. Extinction Rebellion’s rebuttal paper says that, with the capacity to process 700,000 tonnes of rubbish per year they can estimate that the carbon emissions will be roughly 700,000 tonnes.
A Freedom of Information query to confirm carbon intensity was refused because only the Environment Agency holds the data. However, the analysis by UKWIN (p14) concludes from the average of 6 studies it could be 694gCO2/kWh (direct emissions)
The GLA says that “The Mayor has set an initial Carbon Intensity Floor (CIF) target for Edmonton ERF of 400g CO2e/kwh electrical and intends to set a tighter standard of 300g CO2e/kwh electrical by 2030.”
Extinction Rebellion’s opposition to the Edmonton Incinerator includes evidence of over capacity, air pollution, discouragement of recycling and they dispute the value for money claims.
East London Biogas is in Dagenham and “The anaerobic digestion facility processes up to 35,000 tonnes p.a. of food waste …. to generate enough renewable energy to power approximately 2,000 homes.” Across the UK there are many anaerobic digestors with and without Combined Heat and Power (CHP) to be found on this map. If anaerobic digestion were to provide more electricity (and heat) more food waste would need to collected and the CCC’s Sector Fuel Supply p18 assumes that collection rates for anaerobic digestion rise to 90% by 2030.