Appendix C Scope And Limitations Of The Special Report

C.1 Compared to other forms of renewable energy, energy from biomass attracts little attention. The number of projects using biomass energy in the UK is far less than that from energy from waste or wind power. The Commission analysed the various forms of renewable energy in its Twenty-second Report 'Energy - The Changing Climate'. This study was commissioned to investigate developments in biomass energy since the Twenty-second Report, exploring the introduction of new technology and the extent to which government energy policy has provided appropriate incentives for its introduction.

C.2 The main focus of this report has been on biomass as a source of heat and power particularly through the use of CHP (combined heat and power) plants. Unlike most other sources of renewable energy, biomass has the advantage that it can be stored, and therefore controlled; it is also the source of a considerable amount of heat that, if captured and utilised, can offer high efficiencies and significant CO2 savings.

C.3 A study of biomass was considered timely because of the recent failure of the ARBRE project. Other countries have major programmes using biomass as a source of renewable energy, both for heat and power, and are developing technologies and infrastructure to enable them to do this, yet the recent Energy White Paper had few proposals in this area. The UK is in danger of being left behind, and the collapse of ARBRE may exacerbate this. If the government is to achieve its stated aims for the reduction of greenhouse gases and UK industry is to keep abreast of developments in this area, the use of biomass will need further government support. This study explored the importance of such support and possible forms that it might take.

C.4 Concerns about the environmental consequences of growing energy crops and emissions from biomass energy plants have been addressed and the carbon lifecycle examined, as well as the energy balance involved in long-distance transportation of biomass for fuel. Public concerns about the large-scale cultivation and use of energy crops, fears about impacts on traditional farming, the landscape and air quality, have been explored and ways of incorporating them into renewable energy policies have been suggested.

C.5 This study has addressed the wider implications for biomass schemes; for example, biomass-fuelled plant can also play a role in waste management. CHP plants can co-fire biomass with coal, and some agricultural wastes can be used as fuel.

C.6 The issue of waste was raised a number of times during the course of this study, particularly with regards to sewage disposal and diverting virgin wood from landfill. These options have been explored as components of the biomass energy process, but we have not covered energy from waste in general. We have already addressed this issue in our Seventeenth Report.

C.7 This report was restricted to an overview of the potential for biomass energy production and aimed to highlight the variety of options available that could be tailored to individual situations. We have not taken a prescriptive approach and have not attempted to determine fuel availability and technology suitability for specific areas of the UK; although we have made recommendations that such analyses be carried out on a regional basis.

C.8 This report does not cover biofuels for transport or energy carriers such as hydrogen produced from hydrocarbons. Fuels such as bioethanol from cereals and biodiesel from oil seeds may have a role as fuels for surface transport but applications of woody biomass to produce transport fuels are more speculative. Woody biomass gives a higher energy yield per hectare than transport fuels from cereals or oil seed crops. It was therefore decided to restrict the coverage of the report to the higher energy yield option of biomass. Biofuels are not covered in this report as we view them as longer-term possibilities that might be appropriate if surplus biomass or land is available once the more immediate applications for woody biomass have been exploited.

C.9 Many fuels and technologies for energy generation can make contributions to reducing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We acknowledged the need for a diverse energy portfolio in our Twenty-second Report and we urge the government to place an emphasis on alternative energy sources and to develop policy and support mechanisms to encourage the renewables sector. We consider biomass to be a vital, viable part of this generation mix that offers real opportunities for UK energy, environment and agriculture.

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