Biomass power plants need not cause significant land-use tensions

May 29, 2013

New policy statement calls for Government to invest in the development of biomass with Carbon Capture and Storage technology

The use of biomass to produce electricity need not cause significant land-use tensions and Government should look to support the development of this type of power generation with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), according to a new policy statement by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“Our analysis shows that at the scale of current global ambitions, the cultivation of biomass for use in electricity generation need not necessarily threaten the availability of land for food production, other energy sourcing and the preservation of ecosystems.

“The demand for biomass in power generation is currently very low, and even with projected future growth of this form of electricity production, the land needed to grow these crops remains relatively small compared with that required to meet future food demands. An integrated approach to the management of land use for agriculture and crops for power generation could ensure that any potential tensions are effectively eliminated.

“Using CCS technology with biomass-fired power stations also presents us with an opportunity to remove around 10% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the atmosphere each year, effectively cleaning up emissions from other difficult to get at sources.  Biomass electricity produces low levels of carbon emissions, on a lifecycle basis, and combining it with CCS technology effectively creates so-called ‘negative emissions’ which can make a useful contribution to mitigating climate change.

“Given that the exclusion of biomass from the energy mix would significantly increase the cost of reducing the CO2 emissions of the UK energy system, Government should help ensure that land-use tensions are fully understood and correctly managed.”

The Bioenergy with CCS for Electricity policy statement makes the following recommendations for Government to:

1.       Undertake a thorough and detailed investigation into the potential use of biomass-based technologies for UK electricity generation, taking account of future international food production needs, ecosystem preservation, economics and climate change mitigation benefits.

2.       Take an international lead in encouraging a fully integrated global approach to food security, ecosystem preservation and the generation of electricity from biomass energy, to reduce the scope for related impacts on future food prices and help ensure biomass incentives do not lead to undesired land-use changes.

3.       Support UK research, development and demonstration of CCS technology for use with biomass-based electricity generation while simultaneously pursuing the future inclusion of “negative emissions” credits in international climate change mitigation agreements.

Carbon Capture and Storage is a process where the CO2 that would be emitted from a power plant burning fossil fuel, such as coal or gas, is collected and thereby prevented from entering the atmosphere. The captured CO2 could be transported and sequestered in rock formations or made into a mineral that can be stored, for example by burial.


Notes to Editors

To read the full policy statement: Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage for Electricity Land Use Tensions.