3Keel helps to define sustainable bioenergy for the UK

11th May 2022

The RSPB has launched a new report, authored by 3Keel, on the sustainability of different types of biomass used in the UK energy system. It also proposes a framework for how policymakers should incentivise sustainable use of these resources in the coming decades.

The work was commissioned ahead of a new UK Biomass Strategy from BEIS, due to be published later in 2022. The strategy will set out in detail how the Government believes biomass can best contribute towards net zero across the economy.

Biomass systems have well documented potential for both positive and negative social, economic, and environmental impacts. These include impacts on climate, water, biodiversity – and wider resource competition with other sectors.

However defining ‘sustainability’ of biomass feedstocks is extremely challenging due to the inherent complexity of these systems – and differences in methods, criteria and assumptions used when comparing or assessing their impacts. As a result, published estimates of ‘sustainable’ biomass supply can differ widely.

Our analysis found that many types of biomass pose high or very high risks to nature or the climate, while others are moderate or lower risk. Based on our analysis we recommend priority is given to moderate and lower risk types of biomass while those with higher risk levels have upper limits or quotas applied. Up to 4% of primary energy supply could be provided from low and moderate risk domestic biomass feedstocks in 2050 compared to 7% in the Climate Change Committee’s Balanced Net Zero Pathway.

There is likely to be significant change in the UK in the coming years and decades as business and industry strive towards net zero. This report aims to ensure that the forthcoming Biomass Strategy and related policies consider the wider sustainability impact of using biomass resources and that priority should be given to those that have lower risks of consequential adverse environmental impacts, excessive land use, or competition with increasing biomaterial demands from non-energy sectors.

The report can be accessed via the RSPB website here.