Bioenergy: update - March 2021

Considers the potential role for bioenergy to support our net zero greenhouse emissions targets and outlines how we intend to move forward over the next 18 to 24 months to understand the most appropriate and sustainable use of bioenergy resources in Scotland.

6. Future Roles for Bioenergy

Relationships and Links

As highlighted earlier, there is the potential for bioenergy to play a more significant role in the transition to net zero. The recent CCC advice made clear that "sustainable bioenergy is essential for reaching net zero". An enhanced role for bioenergy would therefore require a scaling up of domestic supply, to meet anticipated future demand.

Biomass supply

Biomass feedstock is the common factor across all related sectors outlined in the previous section. See diagrams below which highlights the cross–cutting issues to be considered.

Diagram 3. Relationships and Links: Dry feedstock

Dry feedstock can be woody biomass, straw or energy crops. There are a number of targets, actions, principles and interdependencies that affect production of these resources and how they are utilised.

Diagram 4. Relationships and Links: Wet Feedstock

Wet feedstock can be waste, sewage or manure and slurry. There are a number of targets, actions, principles and interdependencies that affect production of these resources and how they are utilised.

On biomass supply, the CCC indicates that fast growing energy crops can provide a rapid and therefore important source of biomass feedstock for fuel use and are recommending that during this decade, government policies should assist a transition towards use of biomass (including energy crops) as a fuel with Carbon, Capture and Storage (CCS), and away from use for heating buildings and generating power without CCS.

The CCC, are also recommending some 'wet' biomass such as food waste and sewage are likely to continue to be best used with AD, with the resulting syngas to be upgraded to biomethane and injected into the gas grid wherever possible. However, the potential location of farm based AD plants may be too far from the gas grid to allow methane injection. In these circumstances biomass feedstocks may be better used for local production of heat and power.

The "balanced net zero pathway"[13] suggested by the CCC, estimates that biofuel from waste fats/oil/grease will remain at similar levels as today for road transport. There is potential for some additional uses in off-road machinery and agricultural equipment through the early 2030s before these uses are phased out around 2040. Aviation fuel then becomes the core output, providing 6% of the UK's demand by 2050.

It is clear that we need to gather further evidence to understand the current availability of such feedstock and the scope to increase collection of it. Alongside this, we need to support innovation to optimise feedstock mixtures and increase the efficiency of the processes.

Deciding where bioenergy will be most effectively deployed will depend on which sectors will make the best use of the bioenergy feedstocks that we can grow domestically or import. The use of bioenergy resources in the energy system must also be compatible with a sustainable land use policy and our obligations to ensure a sustainable global transition.

We have already indicated in our Climate Change Plan update our intention to work to identify in which applications across the energy system bioenergy can be most effective. The work we will undertake will seek to better understand the interdependencies and relationships with the aim of producing a strategic framework or set of guiding principles.

Negative Emissions Technologies

A key issue to consider is the role that Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) or Greenhouse Gas Removal technologies as they are also referred to, are expected to play in the pathway to net zero, compensating for the residual emissions in hard-to-decarbonise sectors, such as agriculture and international aviation.

As set out in our Climate Change Plan update, based upon TIMES whole systems energy modelling, a specific emissions envelope has been developed for NETs, allowing us to be transparent with our assumptions of these evolving technologies.

We estimate that a small quantity of negative emissions could be delivered during the late 2020s from trial and demonstrations projects. The relatively small contribution that NETs makes in 2029 (0.5 Mt) reflects this. However, in 2030 we expect NETs to begin making a meaningful contribution to meeting our emission envelopes.

There are a range of different NETs pathways, which combine bioenergy, electricity generation, fuel and hydrogen production and industrial processes. We will undertake detailed feasibility studies on NETS to assess the opportunities for negative emissions in Scotland, and identify applications with the greatest potential, including specific sites where possible. This work, will be carried out in parallel to the work being proposed for bioenergy but the findings will be made available to help inform the Bioenergy Action Plan.

With the exception of Direct Air Capture with Carbon Storage (DACCS), NETs pathways depend on the use of bioenergy. A key part of developing NETs will be to understand the implications, scale and pace with which bioenergy resources should be focused on each of the possible pathways, and how this interacts with other uses for bioenergy.

For example, where we use biomass grown or produced in Scotland we need to fully understand and consider the impacts on our agriculture and other land use sectors. Where we import biomass, it will be important to do so in a way that supports efforts to tackle the global climate emergency, which means adopting a sustainable way of using bioenergy resources produced elsewhere, and considering the growing importance of bioenergy as a pathway to decarbonisation in other countries.

The CCC has indicated that Scotland is an ideal place to deploy BECCS towards the late 2020s. In the event that BECCS is deployed at scale it will require a strategic approach to consider the interdependencies to ensure competing demands do not lead to tensions or conflicts. Primarily we will need to understand how we source and use finite bioenergy resources, while taking account of other sectors. As mentioned earlier this could be presented as a strategic framework or a set of "guiding principles".

Further Investigation and Evidence Gathering

A summary of the key areas that require further investigation is outlined below:

Category Further Investigation
Feedstock Availability Dry feedstock
  • Investigate the opportunity for upscaling energy crop planting - types suited to Scotland (through crop trials and demonstration of particular land use conversions) and land availability.
  • How will changes in diet and demand for different food products impact on the potential availability of energy crops
  • Step change for farming – consider competing priorities alongside assessing value for money and work already underway within the Farming and Food Production Group.
  • Forestry sector – upscaling of sustainable biomass production
  • What level of imports are desired, what level is feasible, and how can these be guaranteed to be sourced sustainably
Wet feedstock
  • How to collect and maximise value of the 2.4 TWh of feedstock that is currently not utilised (looking at ease of collection, transport, cost per MWh, environmental impact and carbon savings).
Competing Demands
  • Afforestation, peatland restoration, energy crops, habitats and species protection and enhancement and food production all place demands on a finite amount of land.
  • How should competing uses for resources be prioritised and what incentives can help to prioritise use of feedstock which has no other value.
  • Consider guiding principles for all feedstocks across sectors and technologies to maximise the carbon reduction impact from biomass.
Environmental and Sustainability Issues
  • How to fully realise the economic opportunities from our land and natural resources whilst protecting and enhancing biodiversity and existing ecosystems.
  • How to minimise the global environmental impacts of any imported feedstock.
  • Establish a market for digestate to be used as fertiliser.
  • Attitudes of land owners, land users, the public and visitors to the significant land use changes (and change in the appearance of our landscapes) required to meet climate goals.
Technology Readiness
  • Reliance on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) infrastructure. Ensure that, as we support and develop CCS infrastructure in Scotland, it is sufficiently flexible to integrate a range of Bioenergy and other NETS technologies in the future.
  • Feasibility of BECCS technologies for power, hydrogen, waste management, heat in industrial processes and biofuels, including which manufacturing industries in Scotland are considering BECCS as part of their route to net zero.
  • Skills and standardised infrastructure are required to support increased biomethane injection to the gas grid.
  • Investigate mixed feedstocks for AD processes.
Reserved/Devolved areas
  • New methods and incentives will need to be developed which reflect the value of capturing carbon and careful consideration given to how these are funded.
  • We ask that the UK Government signals its intention to put in place market and regulatory frameworks to support the acceleration of negative emissions technologies and the role of BECCS.
  • UK Green Gas Support Scheme.
  • Ensure that the increased costs of support mechanisms do not adversely affect the poorest in society.
  • Engage with the UK government on specific elements of their Energy White Paper and the UK Biomass Strategy (by 2022).
  • Consider what new support schemes and/or policy at both a UK Government and Scottish Government level may be required to facilitate development and deployment.

Reserved/Devolved Levers

Some key levers in the expansion of bioenergy are currently reserved to the UK Government. Our work will seek to align with the UK Government decisions on market and regulatory frameworks. This will enable us to make the most appropriate decisions for our overall decarbonisation pathway, including a whole system approach to bioenergy and negative emissions.



Back to top