Warwickshire-based bottled gas company Calor has hit out against the government’s plans for biomass, warning current policies would repeat the same mistakes made with biofuels.
In a report by Calor entitled Biomess, the liquefied petroleum gas company said it did not believe the shift towards biomass and wind implied by the government’s Renewable Energy Strategy Consultation was attainable.
To meet the European Union’s 2020 renewable energy target, the government believes biomass-fuelled technologies may need to provide about 30 per cent of the UK’s renewable electricity and heat generation.
Biomass materials are recently-living organisms such as plants, animals and their byproducts and can include wood, wood waste and straw as well as manure, sewage and food leftovers.
Calor Gas focused particularly on wood-based biomass, saying: “The carbon emissions in sourcing the wood are dramatically under-estimated. The government has cherry-picked the wrong fuel winner: biomass looks like following biofuels’ walk of shame.”
A widespread adoption of biofuel targets by governments worldwide, particularly in the EU and the United States, have come in for heavy criticism as farmers turn food-growing land over to fuel production. Biofuels are also regarded as contributing to global warming as farmers clear previously untouched land, releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere, in order to grow plants like corn and sugar cane.
Calor Gas referred to energy security raised by wood-based biomass, saying the UK would be dependent on foreign imports. A feeder area of trees covering an expanse larger than the combined area of England and Wales would be needed to achieve a 15 per cent contribution to the renewable energy mix.
Calor said in a statement: “Calor Gas issued the Biomess paper because it believes that its market in the UK should not be unfairly prejudiced by the government’s plans to tax rural fuels heavily in order to subsidise a significantly more expensive and polluting fuel – which, by the government’s own admission, most wood-sourced biomass is.
“We are sure genuine and economically-viable renewables have a secure future in the UK energy mix yet there remains a danger of adopting a policy on biomass which repeats the mistake made with biofuels.”
But Dr David Toke, senior lecturer in environmental policy at the University of Birmingham, said: “Calor Gas is a supplier of fossil fuels and, in as much as it is a supplier of fossil fuels, it is set to lose out.”
He said biogas, which can be derived from waste products such as leftover food, could make a significant contribution to the UK’s renewable energy mix. He pointed to Ernst & Young’s report for National Grid which found that up to half the gas used for cooking and heating British homes could be produced from renewable waste by 2020.
Dr Toke added that it could be possible, with “a very rigorous building energy-efficiency programme,” for the UK to be able to source all its biogas needs internally, meaning the technology could provide a response to questions of energy security. But renewable gas in the UK did not receive financial incentives, unlike renewable electricity, so many producers focused on converting the gas into electricity.