Where does UK biomass come from? Bioenergy case studies in MAGLUE

MAGLUE is investigating how bioenergy feedstocks are sourced for the UK, and their sustainability considering greenhouse gas balance. These data are urgently needed for UK Life Cycle Analysis and the development of a sustainability framework.

Posted on 08 February 2017.

MAGLUE is investigating how bioenergy feedstocks are sourced for the UK, and their sustainability considering greenhouse gas balance. These data are urgently needed for UK Life Cycle Analysis and the development of a sustainability framework.

At present much of the UK’s bioenergy feedstock is imported from North America as wood pellets- 4,696 kt wood pellets destined for large-scale power generation were imported last year. North America has significant potential to grown biomass that in 2014 the USA consumed only 35% of the wood pellets produced, with Europe importing most of their excess. In California alone it has been estimated that over 100 million dead trees need to be removed from forests and utilised – if left they represent a significant fire hazard. This importation has associated greenhouse gas emissions which are being quantified in MAGLUE

 

As part of MAGLUE we are preparing several case studies on the supply of bioenergy feedstock for the UK from significant areas of the world. One issue of LCAs is the definition of the exact question and goal of the study and Maglue have thus precisely defined the question and scope of each case study. The case study is short rotation coppice (SRC) willow and poplar supply from Europe. Currently the UK import 1,785 kt wood pellets from within the EU which given their proximity to the UK compared to North America may seem surprising. In 2014, EU28 countries contributed 50% of the global wood pellet production however the same counties consumed 74% meaning there was a net import of pellets into Europe. The UK’s large-scale power generation facilities are mostly set up to take wood pellets and therefore the UK consume much of the imported wood pellet supply.

 

The next two case studies Maglue have chosen are sources that the UK currently do not exploit; sugarcane in Brazil and oil palm in South East Asia. Brazilian ethanol derived from sugar-cane could make an important contribution to UK feedstock supply, particularly as a transport fuel. In 2014 Brazil planted 10.4 Mha sugar-cane, 58% of which was distilled into ethanol and they plan to plant a further 10 Mha by 2020. The UK however only imports a very small amount of this ethanol, representing just 2% of the UK’s total biofuel consumption at present. Sugar-cane is a very high output crop, however it also requires high inputs so cultivation is intensive. Our final case study, oil palm from south east Asia, is currently not utilised by the UK. Indeed, the UK’s use of palm oil (the fuel produced from the crop oil palm) for biodiesel and energy has been declining over the past decade due to changes in EU policy, since at present it fails to meet sustainability criteria.  Now that the crop is in place, however,  MAGLUE is  interested in quantifying the potential to improve management of the oil palm to remediate GHG emissions and ensure second rotation plantings are more environmentally sustainable.

 

The MAGLUE  team have now defined the exact research question, goal and scope for each case study and are working towards answering these questions. To find out more about our case studies, you will soon be able to download our full reports from our downloads page.

 
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