National Audit Office to Evaluate Govt Biomass Strategy

The National Audit Office (NAO) has launched its own investigation into the government’s biomass strategy that was announced in August, in an effort to test its credibility. Yahoo News reports that the use of biomass as a green fuel source is coming under increased scrutiny, with questions about just how sustainable and eco-friendly it is. 

Biomass currently provides about 12% of the UK’s renewable energy supply, with the vast majority being generated at Drax’s power station in Selby, North Yorkshire. The site has four biomass terminals that are central to the government’s plans to become more self-sufficient in terms of national energy supply, and also to help achieve net zero 2050 targets.

The production of biomass involves burning wood pellets or other organic matter to produce energy. Although this is a renewable resource, there are concerns about the level of carbon dioxide that is being released into the atmosphere when biomass is burned. Some analysts claim that it is even more toxic than burning fossil fuels.

Over the last decade, Drax has converted four of its six generating units from coal to biomass fuel. It generates enough renewable energy to power four million households, and produces around 5% of Britain’s electricity supply overall. Most of the wood pellets that it burns are residue from North American sawmills, with shipments arriving daily at UK ports.

Drax claims that they have reduced the Co2 emissions of the power station by 80% since 2012, but some experts dispute this figure. They claim that the figures are dependent on the timber being replaced by new growth, but there is insufficient evidence that this is happening, because young trees absorb less Co2 than older ones. 

Carbon capture technology is being deployed to offset some of the emissions, but this is a slow process and so far it is not offsetting the amount of carbon that is being released through biomass burning. Drax is currently coming under increasing pressure to justify its claims of slashed carbon emissions. 

Policy director Dustin Benton told City A.M. that advocates of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage are failing to “make a compelling case for public subsidy, because the UK has abundant renewable energy, and hydrogen could prove a valuable form of long-term energy storage when renewables aren’t available”.

He added: “BECCs plants like Drax would be useful but aren’t critical to the UK’s power supply – so does subsidising them divert resources from building more renewables or energy storage to stabilise the grid?”

“Meanwhile, given we don’t have adequate international standards for ensuring biomass is truly sustainable, we don’t know for sure whether it’s better to leave forests alone to sequester carbon.”

The government has continued to back the use of biomass, publishing its Biomass Strategy in August. However, the National Audit Office has now launched its own independent investigation amid concerns about the credibility of the strategy. 

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