UK CO2 Emissions Fall 5.8% In 2016 After Record 52% Drop In Coal Use, According To Carbon Brief

March 7th, 2017 by

New analysis by the UK’s Carbon Brief website has shown that UK carbon dioxide emissions fell by 5.8% in 2016 due in part to a record 52% collapse of coal use.

According to Carbon Brief, a UK-based site dedicated to covering climate science, climate policy, and energy policy, and based on analysis of energy use figures from the UK’s Department of Energy, Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), UK CO2 emissions fell by 5.8% in 2016, putting the country’s overall emissions around 36% below 1990 levels. The drop was partly due to a massive fall in coal use, down 52% in 2016 alone, though this was partly offset by a marginal increase in emissions from oil (up 1.6%) and gas (up 12.5%).

This is significantly good news for the UK, but it is also completely unsurprising given reports over the past few months.

In August, it was reported that solar electricity generation had for the second time in 2016 beaten out coal in the UK (July). This was subsequently followed in October by a report showing that solar had actually beat out coal generation over a six month period (April through September).

In early January this year, it was also reported that the UK’s wind sector generated more electricity than coal did during the whole of 2016, a first for the UK.

The drop in coal use has long been predicted, as country-wide policies came into effect and the economic sense of switching to renewables and gas began outweighing holding onto coal. Coal use has been falling for several years, with record low usage reports being filed at the beginning of each new year. Now, looking back at 2016, coal use fell so far that it even fell through the years of the UK miners’ strikes in 1921, 1926, and 1984.

This has resulted in a lot of focus being placed on gas-generation — a move which can be debated for its cleanliness. Nevertheless, as has already been shown, renewable energy generation is nevertheless increasing.

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

No Biodegradable Material to Landfill by 2020

Existing legislation (Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2014) will forbid the disposal of biodegradable material to landfill by December 2020. In Scotland we are only recycling around 35% of our waste - in Sweden they manage about 50% and send less than 1% to landfill sites. The other 50% that is not landfilled is used as fuel in energy-from-waste (EfW) plants that are highly efficient by virtue of the fact that they generate electricity but instead of wasting the heat, send hot water to their city and town district heating systems.

UK population to pass 70 million in less than a decade

The UK's population will pass the 70 million mark in less than a decade, according to official projections.

Demographers expect the landmark to be reached by 2026 as the number of people living in the country increases "steadily".

Natural growth - more births than deaths - and net migration helped push the estimated UK population to a record 65.1 million in 2015, a rise of more than half a million on the previous year.

Experts also say the growth in the size of the population is partly because it is ageing - with one in five expected to be aged 65 or over by the middle of the next decade.

In an overview of the latest trends published on Friday, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said growth slowed during the 1970s after the "baby boom" of the previous decade, before picking up again in the late 1980s.

Recent uplifts have "generally coincided with an increase in the number of countries holding EU membership", the report added.

A growing proportion of UK inhabitants are aged at least 65, with the percentage in this age group rising from 14.1% in 1975 to 17.8% in 2015.

Over the same period, the proportion of children aged 15 and younger has declined from over 24% to less than 20%.

It is forecast that a fifth (20.2%) of the population will be aged 65 and over in 2025, rising to a quarter (24.6%) in 2045.

Natural change has had an impact on the number of occupants. Since 1955, the number of births in the UK has been higher than the number of deaths in every year bar 1976.

The rise in the population since the 1990s has also been attributed to the growth of net migration - the number of people arriving to live in the UK minus the number departing.

Statisticians said the direct effect of net migration increased the population by more than 250,000 people per year on average from 2004 to 2015. This is about 50,000 more people per year than natural change for the same period.

Current and past international migration also has "indirect effects" on the size of the population as it changes the numbers of births and deaths in the UK, the report added.

Immigration has been higher than emigration since the early 1990s. In 2015, the inflow was 631,500 - more than double emigration at 299,200.

The report said rises in immigration "have tended to coincide with the expansion of the EU, allowing more people to freely migrate to the UK".

In 2004, eight central and eastern European countries - Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia - joined the bloc, while Romania and Bulgaria became member states in 2007.

The UK is currently estimated to have the third largest population out of the EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

But it is projected the surpass Germany and France to become the most populous of the 32 nations at 77 million by 2050.

On the consequences of the population changes, the ONS report said: "While living longer is a cause for celebration, an ageing population may result in fewer people of working age to support those of pension age.

"While a larger population increases the size and productive capacity of the workforce, it also increases pressure and demand for services such as education, healthcare and housing."

Alistair Currie, head of campaigns at the charity Population Matters, said: "Seventy million isn't just a number.

"More people puts a strain on all our natural and social resources that simply isn't sustainable."

VLC Energy to build 50MW energy storage projects in UK

EBR Staff Writer Published 01 March 2017

VLC Energy, a joint venture formed by VPI Immingham and renewable investment fund Low Carbon, is set to develop 50MW energy storage projects in the UK.

The joint venture has been set up to fund early stage energy storage and renewable energy projects in the UK to complement VPI Immingham’s existing combined heat and power (CHP) generation.

As part of this effort, VLC Energy initially plans to build two large-scale energy storage plants in Cleator in Cumbria and Glassenbury in Kent, with a combined capacity of 50MW (35MWh).

Planned to be connected to UK’s electricity grid by the end of the year, the two lithium-ion based energy storage projects had won contracts in the National Grid’s Enhanced Frequency Response (EFR) tender process.

Low Carbon CEO Roy Bedlow said: “Renewable energy is playing an increasingly important role in the UK’s energy mix and as this role expands, the development of energy storage plants will be central to the future success of the UK’s energy network.

“Furthermore, by actively building a robust portfolio of renewable energy projects at scale, we are substantively challenging the causes of climate change, while helping to meet the growing demand for renewable energy in the UK.”

The two projects will feature LG Chem lithium batteries and NEC management systems.

VPI Immingham chairman and member of Vitol executive committee Russell Hardy said: “Batteries perfectly complement renewables and gas and together offer a cleaner, more efficient energy future for the UK.”

The two projects are expected to enhance National Grid’s ability to manage surges in supply from renewable energy sources.

They are also expected to provide enhanced frequency response to the UK electricity grid among other services.

Image: Illustration of 40MW battery storage project at Glassenbury, UK. Photo: courtesy of Low Carbon/Business Wire.

UK’s housing stock must be a “national infrastructure priority”

  • 1 Mar 2017

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Calls have been made to recognise energy efficiency as a “national infrastructure priority”, after it was revealed that around 25 million homes will not meet the insulation standards required in order to meet the UK’s sustainability targets.

The UK is required to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 per cent (compared to 1990 levels) before 2050, to meet the current targets set by the 2008 Climate Change Act.

According to a new report by the Green Building Council, one-third of those emissions are created from heating poorly insulated buildings; and that 1.4 homes per minute will need to be refurbished in order to rectify this.

Fixing the housing stock

Britain’s floundering housing stock has been the subject of much criticism as successive government’s have failed to deliver a national programme of home renovations.

Funding appears to be at the centre of the issue: as local authorities struggle, with limited cash available to insulate council homes, private landlords and homeowners are put off investing such large amounts of money into improvements that will save on energy bills, but take years to pay off.

The government has failed to introduce a replacement solution for the Green Deal and the treasury seems reluctant to invest public money in improvements that will increase the sale value of private homes.

Making it happen

‘Building Places That Work for Everyone’, the Green Building Council report that was released to parliament on February 28th, says that the solution lies in recognising the issue as national infrastructure priority.

Fully exploiting the potential market in home energy efficiency alone could create more than 108,000 jobs.

Fully exploiting the potential market in home energy efficiency alone could create more than 108,000 jobs.

It suggests introducing a clear timetable for improving energy standards in building regulations and reintroducing the zero-carbon standard that was scrapped before it even began in 2015.

A national delivery programme with a range of finance options for all ventures and household circumstances has also been put forward, in addition to a mandatory operational energy rating to enable maximum transparency in commercial buildings.

Investing in sustainability

The sustainable construction industry is worth an estimated $288 billion worldwide. According to the E3G, an independent expert on climate diplomacy and energy policy, fully exploiting the home energy efficiency market could create more than 108,000 jobs and save £2.7 billion a year in natural gas import costs.

Government investment in sustainable housing could also reduce NHS costs by £1.4 billion a year, according to a study by the BRE, whilst an energy efficient housing stock could reduce household energy bills by £300 each year and lift 90 per cent of fuel poor families out of fuel poverty.

Legal battle to block sell-off of green bank to Macuarie

Vampire Kangaroo: Australian Asset stripper Macquarie 

Vampire Kangaroo: Australian Asset stripper Macquarie 

Vampire Kangaroo: Australian Asset stripper Macquarie

The controversial sale of a state-backed bank set up to support environmental projects faces a last-ditch legal fight.

Sustainable Development Capital, a firm which lost out in a bidding war to buy the Green Investment Bank, is asking for a judicial review over the expected decision to sell to scandal-hit Australian bank Macquarie.

The fund, which led a consortium bidding for GIB, says it had raised concerns about the sale since September last year.

It has lodged papers in the High Court following months of controversy around the £2billion sale of the bank, due to fears the new owners might invest in less eco-friendly projects.

The investment fund claimed yesterday that the bid by Macquarie – a bank dubbed 'the vampire kangaroo' – was not in line with government criteria.

A spokesman said: 'In the absence of a constructive dialogue, we have no alternative but to seek redress through the judicial review process.'

Official documents suggest that the buyers of the state-backed bank would have free rein to sell-off valuable assets and flout Government promises.

GIB was set up by the Government in 2012 to invest in eco-projects around the country.

But ministers decided to privatise the bank in June 2015, sparking huge opposition due to fears the owners would not stick to its environmental purpose.

Macquarie, believed to have been the Government's preferred bidder since around October, has faced criticism due to fears it intends to strip out key assets and sell them on at a profit.

A Freedom of Information request has uncovered how a 'special share' that has been created to protect GIB from asset strippers could be toothless. The new owners of the bank would be able to change its agenda and even invest in fossil fuels, it is claimed.

As part of the sale, trustees will take control of the special share that allows them to block the bank's green mission being changed in its constitution.

But the FOI response to Greenpeace from the bank has revealed their main other power would be to take the company to court using a technical process known as a derivative action, a complicated measure that doesn't always succeed.

Greenpeace warned that new owners would be able to do anything they wanted with the bank. Macquarie declined to comment, but previously has pointed to its record of investing in renewable energy in the UK.

The Government has stressed that it wants, and expects, GIB to continue to invest in green sectors following a sale.

Deals Of The Week

Confirmation That Trollhättan/Sweden Working To Attract Next Tesla Gigafactory

February 28th, 2017 by

As a followup to our earlier article reporting that Trollhättan, Sweden, may be working to bring Tesla’s next Gigafactory to the area, we now have confirmation that this news was correct, as well as additional details.

Sweden’s Economic Development and Innovation Minister, Mikael Damberg (S), confirmed the efforts by Business Sweden to attract Tesla to the region in a conversation with Sveriges Radio P4 Väst earlier this week.

His comments (as translated for us by our Swedish friend Viktor Irle of EV Volumes) read: “I know a letter has been sent to Tesla and that they (Tesla) have marked that there is interest for Sweden. There will likely happen more things to this area in the near future,” said Mikael Damberg.

As we noted in our earlier coverage, the city of Trollhättan could potentially be a good choice for the location of the next Gigafactory (despite high labor costs) because of the largely idle ex-Saab plant there, the workforce in the area that has experience with auto manufacturing, and the proximity to Gothenburg’s rail-hub.

The ex-Saab plant is currently owned by China-based NEVS, but the company is reportedly open to leasing it and has a lot of extra space.

Viktor adds the note that, “Trollhättan is located on top of a hydropower plant that has been running for ~100 years and still produces about 1–2% of Swedish electricity. Infinite power. 😉 It even uses a natural dam, so no extra land was covered in water to make it. Very ecologically friendly.” That definitely seems like a powerful selling point for Elon/Tesla.

But it doesn’t end there. Viktor adds: “About 100 meters from Saab, GKN aerospace makes jet engines and rocket boosters (major parts). So, there’s a lot of engineering competence here in related fields.” The potential connection to SpaceX must also be appealing.

Back to the local news source: “We will see what we can do to draw them here to Sweden,” Damberg continued.

Not letting the point sit too subtly, the news source summarizes: “According to Mikael Damberg, the Swedish government can support [the Gigafactory] if Tesla Motors will go ahead with this plan.”

Sweden has a lot of competition, though, as we noted previously, with more or less every other country in Europe having now expressed interest in attracting the next Gigafactory. Tesla will reportedly be revealing the location of the next Gigafactory (or the next 2 or 3) by the end of the year.

In addition to a new facility in Europe, Tesla is also looking likely to begin building new Gigafactories in Asia and the US within the near future. How else will it keep up with demand for the Tesla Model Y & Model 3, Tesla Model S & X, Tesla semi trucks & pickup trucks, Tesla mini buses, Tesla Powerwalls & Powerpacks, and who knows what else?

Photo: Olidan Hydroelectric Power Station in Trollhättan, Sweden, by Tubaist (CC BY-SA 3.0)

About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

Syngas and Derivatives Market to Cross a 256,605 MWth by 2024; Emergence of Syngas as Alternative to Fossil Fuel to Drive Growth, Research Report by TMR

ALBANY, New York, February 28, 2017 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- ALBANY, New York, February 28, 2017 /PRNewswire/ --

Transparency Market Research has published a new report titled "Syngas and DerivativesMarket for Chemicals, Power Generation, Liquid Fuels and Gaseous Fuels End-user- Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2016-2024." According to the report, the global consumption of syngas and derivatives market was 115,000 MWth in 2015 and is anticipated to reach 256,605 MWth by 2024, rising at a CAGR of 9.4% between 2016 and 2024.

Syngas is a fuel gas mixture used for production of chemicals, power generation, liquid fuels and gaseous fuels. Coal, petroleum, natural gas / biomass waste and others are used as feedstock for manufacturing of syngas. Syngas is majorly used as a substitute for natural gas, as natural gas is very costly. It constitutes 50% of the energy density of natural gas.

In terms of feedstock, coal held the major share of the market and is expected to grow at a rapid rate during the forecast period. There are large reserves of coal available across the globe, as a result it is cheaper in nature. Natural gas is costlier compared to coal, therefore the share is lesser in the market.

Download Industry Research Report Brochure for more Professional and Technical Insights:

In terms of production technology, syngas and derivatives market is segmented into partial oxidation, steam reforming, biomass gasification and others. Biomass gasification is the most used technology for production of syngas and derivatives as organic or fossil fuel-based carbonaceous materials such as coal and biomass are converted into syngas, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. Steam reforming is another method or production technology used for the manufacture of syngas. Here, syngas is produced by using natural gas as a feedstock. During the process, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and other useful products are also produced. In this process, the reformer reacts with the steam at high temperature and fossil fuel to yield syngas and other products. Partial oxidation technology held an average share of the syngas and derivatives market, but the demand is anticipated to rise at a rapid rate during the forecast period.

In terms of end-user, the market can be segmented into chemicals, power generation, liquid fuels, gaseous fuels and others. Syngas is majorly used as an intermediate for manufacturing of chemicals. It is also used as intermediate for manufacturing of liquid fuels, like creating synthetic petroleum to use as a lubricant or fuel. Power generation held average share in the market. The demand for gaseous fuels segment is expected to increase rapidly during the forecast period.

Browse Research PR:

Asia Pacific dominated the syngas and derivatives market in 2015. This trend is expected to continue during the forecast period due to the increasing demand for automobiles and power generation in the region. Rise in population is another factor that is expected to propel the syngas and derivatives market in Asia Pacific. The demand of syngas and derivatives market in Middle East & Africa region is expected to increase during the forecast period.

Major players in the syngas and derivatives market includes Air Products and Chemicals Inc., Air Liquide SA, BASF SE, Sasol Limited, Siemens Ag and others.

The syngas and derivatives market has been divided into the following segments.

Syngas and Derivatives Market - Feedstock Analysis

  • Coal
  • Petroleum
  • Natural Gas/Biomass Waste
  • Others

Syngas and Derivatives Market - Production Technology Analysis

  • Partial Oxidation
  • Steam Reforming
  • Biomass Gasification
  • Others

Syngas and Derivatives Market - End-user Analysis

  • Chemicals
  • Power Generation
  • Liquid Fuels
  • Gaseous Fuels

Syngas and Derivatives Market - Regional Analysis

  • North America
    • U.S.
    • Canada
  • Europe
    • Germany
    • France
    • U.K.
    • Italy
    • Spain
    • Rest of Europe
  • Asia Pacific
    • China
    • India
    • Japan
    • ASEAN
    • Rest of Asia Pacific
  • Middle East & Africa
    • GCC
    • Egypt
    • South Africa
    • Rest of Middle East & Africa
  • Latin America
    • Brazil
    • Mexico
    • Rest of Latin America

Browse Other Related Market Research Reports:

About TMR

Transparency Market Research (TMR) is a global market intelligence company providing business information reports and services. The company's exclusive blend of quantitative forecasting and trend analysis provides forward-looking insight for thousands of decision makers. TMR's experienced team of analysts, researchers, and consultants use proprietary data sources and various tools and techniques to gather and analyze information.

TMR's data repository is continuously updated and revised by a team of research experts so that it always reflects the latest trends and information. With extensive research and analysis capabilities, Transparency Market Research employs rigorous primary and secondary research techniques to develop distinctive data sets and research material for business reports.

Contact Transparency Market Research State Tower 90 State Street, Suite 700, Albany NY - 12207 United States Tel: +1-518-618-1030 USA - Canada Toll Free: 866-552-3453 Email:



SOURCE Transparency Market Research

Copyright (C) 2017 PR Newswire. All rights reserved

A zero carbon UK is achievable with business backing for clean technology

wind turbine - featured image
  • 28 Feb 2017

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A new report from research organisation Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) claims that the UK can become entirely self-sufficient for its energy needs, if businesses and policymakers can demonstrate a strengthened support for existing low-carbon technologies.

The transport, building and energy sectors are examined by the report, to identify the changes required to move the UK onto a zero-carbon pathway, thereby creating thousands of green jobs and bringing great economic, environmental and social opportunities to the UK.

CAT Project Coordinator Paul Allen has expressed the importance of providing clear evidence that workable solutions already exist, as it gives policymakers no excuse for inaction and empowers citizens.

Decarbonising transport

About a quarter of the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions are contributed by transport, which is the only major sector where emissions are gradually rising.

The transportation sector could help to tackle climate change and reduce the estimated health costs from air pollution with decarbonisation of the sector.

The paper highlighted that all cars, light vans and buses will need to be electric, hydrogen or run on biofuels in order to achieve a shift towards a zero-carbon transport industry.

In addition, it states that policy measures such as more integrated urban and transport planning, high quality infrastructure and services, and economic incentives would aid the addressing demand for air travel and car dependency.

Economic benefits of £8.7bn could be generated to for the UK economy with an energy efficiency programme, CAT claims.

For the country to meet its climate change targets, the report states that around a 50% reduction in energy demand from buildings is required along with a switch away from fossil fuel powered heating systems to zero-carbon technologies.

Low-carbon living

The report proposes retrofitting the entire existing building stock and switching to zero-carbon heating and highly efficient lighting to reduce heating demand by at least 60% from 2010 levels. Carbon emissions would be reduced by flexible energy demand in buildings that involves increased amounts of energy storage, as would low-carbon construction materials.

Despite the fact that the country is not on track to meet its target to generate 15% of its energy from renewables sources by 2020, the UK has good natural resources for low-carbon energy development, the research shows.

It is insisted in the report that the UK can meet its energy needs with 100% renewable energy by scaling up installed systems such as wind, solar and tidal technology. In addition, it calls for the repurposing of some land to grow biomass needed for parts of a 100% renewable energy system.

Biomass subsidies ‘not fit for purpose’, says Chatham House

A handful of biomass. Image:

The report adds that policymakers should tighten up accounting rules to ensure the full extent of biomass emissions are included.

The analysis outlines how policies intended to boost the use of biomass are in many cases “not fit for purpose” because they are inadvertently increasing emissions by often ignoring emissions from burning wood in power stations and failing to account for changes in forest carbon stocks.

It argues that UK and recently revised EU rules for bioenergy are inadequate for managing and monitoring the emissions from burning biomass.

Carbon Brief examines the main arguments of the report, which cut through the long-running debate about the climate impacts of burning biomass.

This report hangs on the fallacy that it takes decades for a forest to recapture carbon. That isn’t true. A well-managed forest is continually growing and it locks in carbon at an optimal rate.

Nina Skorupska, chief executive, Renewable Energy Association

Contentious issue

The rising demand for renewable power around the world has led to a large increase in the production and burning of wood pellets. Advocates, such as power firm Drax – the UK’s largest biomass user – argue they are more reliable for providing baseload power than other renewables, such as wind or solar.

Worldwide production hit a record 28 million tonnes (Mt) in 2015, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), up from under 20Mt just three years earlier. Meanwhile, the UK has become the world’s largest importer of wood pellets, burning 42 per cent of the 15.5Mt of total global imports in 2015.

The chart below shows how global electricity generation from biomass, which includes wood pellets, more than doubled between 2005 and 2015.

Biomass-fired global electricity generation, by country/region, 2005–15. Source: United Nations Environment Programme (2016). Graph by Chatham House

As the chart shows, the EU is now the world’s biggest user of biomass for electricity generation. Bioenergy is expected to contribute 57 per cent of the EU’s total renewable energy by 2020.

Following calls for the EU to introduce better safeguards for biofuels, a revised legislation proposal in the latest EU energy package in December introduced new sustainability criteria for bioenergy production.

These included new rules aimed at ensuring forests are harvested sustainably and conservation areas are protected. It also established new thresholds for how much greenhouse gas emissions need to be saved by switching to biofuels.

However, the Chatham House report argues that even countries who have already begun to apply these new criteria largely fail to include changes in the levels of forest carbon stock in their calculation of greenhouse gas savings.

The report attacks two underlying assumptions which are used to classify biomass as “carbon neutral”. It argues financial and regulatory support should only be given to biomass feedstocks which cut carbon emissions in the short term – which it says is not the case for most of the woody feedstocks used for biomass energy.

Wood for trees

The first assumption is that since trees absorb carbon as they grow, forest growth will balance the carbon emitted by burning wood for energy. For example, the methodology specified in the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive for calculating emissions from biomass only considers supply-chain emissions and counts combustion emissions as zero. Several national frameworks including the UK’s also make this assumption.

However, the reality of the situation is more complicated, the report argues. (See this Carbon Brief investigation for more.) The overall emissions from burning trees will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of woody biomass used, what would have happened to it if it had not been burnt for energy, and what happens to the forest from which it was sourced.

For instance, the report argues harvesting whole trees to burn as wood pellets will nearly always results in more emissions than using fossil fuels instead, since the trees will no longer sequester carbon as they grow and soil carbon can be lost during the harvesting. This is particularly the case for older trees, which sequester more carbon than younger trees.

The so-called “carbon payback period” – the time it takes for regrowth of the forest to reabsorb the emissions from biomass – also becomes important here. In a context where climate tipping points could be crossed in the short term, as some evidence suggests, increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, even for a few decades, becomes relevant.

The report suggests only biomass energy with the shortest carbon payback periods should be eligible for financial and regulatory support. The feedstocks which are most likely to reduce net carbon emissions would be primarily mill residues and post-consumer waste.

In addition, since woody biomass is less dense and contains more moisture than fossil fuels, burning wood for energy usually emits more greenhouse gases per unit of energy produced than fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, supply-chain emissions from harvesting, collecting, processing and transport all play a role in the total climate impact of biomass feedstocks. The report says:

“Overall, while some instances of biomass energy use may result in lower life-cycle emissions than fossil fuels, in most circumstances, comparing technologies of similar ages, the use of woody biomass for energy will release higher levels of emissions than coal and considerably higher levels than gas.”

Some types of biomass feedstock which do not require extra harvesting – such as sawmill residues or black liquor – can be carbon-neutral at least over a period of a few years, the report adds. This is especially likely if these are burnt on-site as this will reduce emissions from transport and processing.

However, even for waste feedstocks, it is still important to consider whether they could have been used for other, lower carbon purposes. For instance, mill residues can also be used for wood products, which would keep the carbon trapped in materials, such as particleboard, for several decades more than if it is released into the atmosphere through burning it.

The concerns highlighted in the report are also relevant to bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This is the leading candidate to provide the negative emissions which are heavily relied on in many pathways to global climate goals, including those for the UK.

If the assumption that biomass is effectively emission free at the point of burning is flawed, then this puts a serious dent in the potential of BECCS providing negative emissions. The report reads:

“The reliance on BECCS of so many of the climate mitigation scenarios reviewed by the IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] is of major concern, potentially distracting attention from other mitigation options and encouraging decision makers to lock themselves into high-carbon options in the short term on the assumption that the emissions thus generated can be compensated for in the long term.”

International frameworks

The second assumption which leads biomass to be seen as carbon neutral stems from international frameworks for reporting and accounting emissions, such as those used under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. But these decade-old rules are currently under revision by the IPCC, with the burning of imported biomass for power (as takes place at Drax) already identified as a topic in need of updating.

In order to avoid confusion or double counting of emissions, these frameworks currently allocate emissions into the land-use sector rather than the energy sector. However, flexibilities in land-use accounting can leave biomass emissions falling through the gaps, counted in neither the country of origin nor where it is burnt. The Chatham House report says:

“This risks creating perverse policy outcomes. Where a tonne of emissions from burning biomass for energy does not count against a country’s emissions target but a tonne of emissions from fossil fuel sources does, there will be an incentive to use biomass energy rather than fossil fuels in order to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions – even where this reduction is not ‘real’ in the sense that it is not accounted for by either the user or the source country.”

The report argues that land-use accounting rules need to be reformed to ensure all parties to the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement include the sector in their national accounting, while counties importing biomass from countries which do not account for the related emissions should account for them themselves.

The report echoes a similar finding from a study conducted last year for the Natural Resources Defence Council by energy specialists Vivid Economics. It concluded that the UK’s use of biomass in power stations is leading in some cases to higher emissions than the coal it is replacing.

The risk of biomass being worse than coal was the subject of a report commissioned by the now-defunct Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). But despite receiving the report in April 2016, the findings have yet to be published.


The Chatham House report is quite specific about how it thinks policy support, principally through subsidies, should be redesigned. It says:

“A more practical approach would be to limit the types of feedstock that can be used, as several EU member states and the US state of Massachusetts already do. The aim would be to restrict eligibility for support to those feedstocks that are most likely to reduce net carbon emissions (or have low carbon payback periods): primarily mill residues, together with post-consumer waste.

Fast-decaying forest residues could also fit into this category, but in practice this is small-diameter material that is likely to contain too much moisture and dirt to render it usable by biomass plants; and it would be very difficult for policy to distinguish easily between fast and slow-decaying residues…”

It continues:

“Policies should ensure that subsidies do not encourage the biomass industry to divert raw material (such as mill residues) away from alternative uses (such as fibreboard), which have far lower impacts on carbon emissions. This may require the sustainability criteria to be adjusted from time to time depending on market conditions.”

However Drax insists the biomass it uses is sustainably sourced from working forests where biodiversity is protected, productivity is maintained, and growth exceeds what is harvested. In a statement released in response to the report it says:

“We agree that not all wood should be used for bioenergy. We source from working forests which supply other industries – including construction and furniture making – with high grade timber. We take the low grade material to make the compressed wood pellets used to generate electricity.

This includes tree tops, limbs, sawmill residues, misshapen and diseased trees not suitable for other use, as well as thinnings – small trees removed to maximise the growth of the forest. There is a widespread scientific consensus that this low-value wood is precisely the material which delivers the biggest carbon reductions.”

Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which represents Drax, adds:

“This report hangs on the fallacy that it takes decades for a forest to recapture carbon. That isn’t true. A well-managed forest is continually growing and it locks in carbon at an optimal rate.


The debate over biomass is unlikely to be resolved soon. The Chatham House report is just the latest analysis to outline how policy support for using biomass as a way to reduce carbon emissions is far more complicated than once thought. It concludes that while the use of waste biomass can in some cases save carbon, much of the biomass obtained from other sources may well not.

This story was published with permission from Carbon Brief.