1.1 Energy consumption throughout the world, but particularly in industrialised societies, has been steadily increasing. Much of the energy consumed, 97% in the case of the UK1, comes from non-renewable sources. The present use of carbon-based non-renewable energy is unsustainable, inter alia because of the effect of the resultant carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on the global climate. Reduction in demand must be part of the solution2 but alternative energy sources must also be developed. All energy sources come with environmental penalties, whether from the construction of dams and barriers or from the impact of renewable sources such as wind on rural landscapes, but these impacts must be balanced against the necessity of developing low-carbon sources that are both economically viable and also secure.

1.2 The Royal Commission's Twenty-second Report, Energy - The Changing Climate published in 2000, advocated a number of steps that the government should take, both in terms of domestic policy and through international negotiation. A key recommendation was that a long-term target should be set to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. This was based on the contention that the maximum concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere should not exceed twice the pre-industrial level. The government subsequently accepted that the UK should put itself on a path towards this aim3. In order to reach a 60% reduction of CO2 emissions, it is vital for the government to concentrate on encouraging low- or non-carbon electrical and heat generation. As a component of a renewable energy generation mixture, biomass should play an important role.

1.3 There are three types of indigenous biomass fuel: forestry materials, where the fuel is a byproduct of other forestry activities; energy crops, such as short rotation coppice (SRC) willow or miscanthus, where the crop is grown specifically for energy generation purposes; and agricultural residues, such as straw or chicken litter. Biomass can also be imported, mainly in the form of pelleted sawdust (which is already an internationally traded commodity).

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