UK farmers and businesses producing biomass that can be used for fuel and electricity creation can apply for government grants of up to GBP200,000. By paying farmers for various types of wood, grass, straw and dead forest wood, the UK government hopes to raise electricity derived from biomass supply to 6% by 2020, up from 3.5% now. Demand for renewable heat is expected to increase to 6% by 2020, up from 0.6% currently.
The grants are part of a new scheme called the Bio-energy Infrastructure Scheme. The investments will inject extra cash into the UK¬¥s environment energy sector at point of production. “By investing in the biomass industry we are helping farmers, foresters and other producers to diversify and become part of the environmental industry sector,” said the Environment Minister Phil Woolas. “We have to rethink our energy mix. We know biomass has the potential to considerably reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and cut our carbon emissions,” he added.
The funding will help businesses to cover set up and other costs for producing biomass crops.The deadline for applications is 5 August 2008 for businesses and 5 September 2008 for producer groups.
The biomass crops for electricity and heat generation are mostly non edible and won’t have an impact on food supplies, in line with the UK’s Biomass Strategy which was drawn up by government officials in May 2007.
The allowed types of biomass are short rotation coppice (willow, poplar, alder, ash, hazel, lime, silver birch, sweet chestnut and sycamore) plus miscanthus, switch grass, reed canary grass, prairie cord grass, rye grass, straw, woodfuel from forestry, arboricultural tree management and primary processing and other energy crops at government officials¬¥ discretion.
One million tons of biomass is equivalent to two million barrels of oil per year. A popular crop is willow, which is now cultivated by many farmers in southern Scotland.
Several power plants already are partially running on natural materials. A big power plant entirely run on biomass went into operation last year at Steven’s Croft (outside Lockerbie) in Scotland. It’s operated by E On. The plant, capitalized at EUR133 million, generates enough electricity to power 70,000 homes, generating 220,000 tonnes of fuel a year with estimated supplies of about 45,000 tonnes of local willow. It provides over 300 jobs in the forestry and energy farming sector and prevents the emission of 140,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.
Another bioenergy plant, located in Cowie, Scotland, utilizes bark and wood residue from the European wood manufacturer Nordbord. The company has invested ¬£2.5 million (US$4.9 million) in biomass fuel facilities. By using biomass this company reduced its reliance on fossil fuels by 40%. The waste biomass makes up 67% of its energy supplies and fossil fuels one fifth.
The UK wants to become an international trading partner in the biofuels market and its pioneering efforts using wood as a fuel for power generation might be of interest to other parties thinking about curbing greenhouse gas emissions by tidying up decomposing wood on forest floors. A University of Maryland climatologist, Ning Zeng, recently wrote an academic paper calculating that the US would be able to offset similar levels of emissions as those generated by burning coal. His proposed solution was to bury forest debris in airtight underground storages to prevent CO2 emissions. Check out my recent Triple Pundit post about this topic.