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UK needs to tap into biofuel potential

The UK is importing biomass for energy that it could be producing itself, according to a new report from The University of Manchester. Almost half of the nation’s energy needs could be met by bio energy with no need to bring in any fuels from abroad at all, it claims.

These are big findings and in the case of biomass, concerns about the use of agricultural land and food supply tend to be raised. Author of the study author, Andrew Welfle, is not concerned about this:

The widely discussed barriers for energy from biomass include the competition for land that may otherwise be used to grow food and the narrative that biomass will have to be imported to the UK if we want to use increased levels of bioenergy. But our research has found that the UK could produce large levels of energy from biomass without importing resources or negatively impacting the UK’s ability to feed itself.”

A good deal of the potential lies in making better use of what’s already going on:

Biomass residue resources from ongoing UK activities, such as agriculture, forestry and industrial processes were found to represent a continuous and robust resource option for the UK bioenergy sector, potentially contributing up to 6.5 per cent of primary energy demand by 2050.”

Taking a sensible low-view of the materials we’re putting into the way we make things and possible secondary usages is absolutely essential. It’s clear that public and private power-brokers need to step up their game.

Unmentioned in the study, though, is the untapped biomass resource of our many cups of coffee. Well, untapped until now. There are at least two recent start-ups based in London whose focus is on processing coffee waste and turning it into fuel pellets. It’s hoped the cycle will be completed by coffee shops investing in biomass boilers to burn their own waste. With the Renewable Heat Incentive up and running, this looks like an attractive offer all round. And with approximately 70 million cups a day drank in the UK, and 200,000 tonnes of coffee waste produced in London per year, maybe our caffeine kick could be helpful is pushing the nation towards biomass self-sufficiency.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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