The UK government is planning to make energy derived from biomass fueled power plants a central tenet of its energy policy. Having reserved some 17% of all arible land for biomass crops in May last year, the country´s Environment Minister is now offering farmers and businesses generous grants if they decide to switch to (mainly non edible) biomass crops. The logic behind the plan is clear; market dynamics are being established in the environmental energy sector, British farmers are ravingly enthusiastic about growing biomass crops for use in local power plants, and massive carbon dioxide emissions can be eliminated.
For the record; biomass is any plant material which can be used as a fuel, such as energy crops, wood, agricultural waste and vegetable oils. It can be burned directly to generate power, or processed to create gas or liquids to be used as fuel for production of power, transport fuels and chemicals. One million tons of biomass is equivalent to two million barrels of oil per year.
The Environment Minister announced the availability of GBP200,000 grants under the Bio-energy Infrastructure Scheme. The UK government said that it was hoping to raise total electricity derived from biomass supply to 6% by 2020. At the moment, Britain derives around 3.5% of all its energy needs from renewable sources. The demand for renewable heat is expected to increase to 6% by 2020. Renewable heat fueled by biomass is 0.6% currently.
"By investing in the biomass industry we are helping farmers, foresters and other producers to diversify and become part of the environmental industry sector,” said the Environment Minister Phil Woolas. “We have to rethink our energy mix. We know biomass has the potential to considerably reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and cut our carbon emissions," he added.
The deadline for applications is 5 August 2008 for businesses and 5 September 2008 for producer groups.The UK government is especially keen to promote short rotation coppice (willow, poplar, alder, ash, hazel, lime, silver birch, sweet chestnut and sycamore) miscanthus, switch grass, reed canary grass, prairie cord grass, rye grass, straw, woodfuel from forestry, arboricultural tree management and primary processing. Other energy crops (perhaps waste biomass or material that ends up erroneously in a landfill) are up to government officials´ discretion.
The Biomass Strategy, a government guide published in May 2007, sets out a clear path toward cleaning up the energy sector by 2020. The writers -government experts in environment, trade and transport- assume market forces are going to deliver an increase in the amount of energy crops grown. They've calculated that this involves possibly using up another 350,000 ha of farmland across the UK by 2020. They said total land availability for biofuel and energy crops is around 1 million hectares (2.47m acres), equivalent to 17% of the total arable land.
The UK´s Climate Change Bill, approved by Parliament last March, puts the UK target of carbon dioxide emissions reduction at 60% by 2050 and biomass options are expected to contribute considerably to achieving this goal. By 2030 some 25 million tonnes of oil equivalent energy (Mtoe) can be obtained from domestic energy agriculture, forestry and residue streams, the government believes. An important part of the biomass plans is the sourcing of 1 million dry tonnes of wood per annum from woodland (both managed and unmanaged) and from wood manufacturing industry and fuel power plants with it. Other organic waste materials are going to be collected too, including slurries, source separated waste biomass and waste derived Solid Recovered Fuels (SRF). The authors of the Biomass Strategy report calculated that it's possible to achieve 8.3 Mtoe from biomass. The current total UK energy demand is 165 Mtoe.
Biomass is a popular issue in the UK and news of power plants being (partially) sourced by biomass tends to trigger massive interest from farmers in the neighborhood. At least in the case of a plant in Lockerbie, Scotland. Farmers are reportedly very keen on planting willow trees on land they have available and transport the branches to the power plant nearby. The Lockerbie plant is operated by E.On and opened its doors only recently. Farmers are already supplying around 45,000 tonnes of willow. E.On capitalized the operation at EUR133 million and provides electricity to 70,000 homes, generating 220,000 tonnes of fuel a year. What's more, 300 jobs have been created in the forestry and energy farm sector. And a total of 140,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases are cut each year.
Another inspiring story is the utilization of wood chip material (chemical free) by European wood manufacturer Nordbord in Cowie (Scotland). The material would normally have ended up in a landfill. Now bark and wood residue from Nordbord´s manufacturing facility is used to generate electricity. The company invested £2.5 million (US$4.9 million) in biomass fuel facilities which reduce its reliance on fossil fuels almost by half. The waste biomass makes up 67% of Nordbord´s energy supplies.