A new report released by the Technology and Policy Assessment function of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), which addresses key controversies in the energy field, suggests that up to one fifth of global energy could be provided by biomass (plants) without damaging food production. The report reviews more than 90 global studies.
A debate has been raging about the role biomass could play in the future energy system: some say it could play a major role in fueling the planet, others argue that it risks an environmental disaster. To get to the heart of the controversy, UKERC scientists at Imperial College London have undertaken a systematic review of the evidence base.
The report finds that the main reason scientists disagree is that they make different assumptions about population, diet, and land use. A particularly important bone of contention is the speed with which productivity improvements in food and energy crop production can be rolled out.
“If we make the best use of agricultural residues, energy crops and waste materials then getting one fifth of current global energy supply from biomass is a reasonable ambition,” says Dr. Raphael Slade, the report’s lead author and a Research Fellow at Imperial College London. The report finds that getting more than this is technically possible but requires assumptions about food production and changes in diets that look increasingly challenging, especially as people in Asia and Latin America begin to adopt a high meat western diet as incomes rise.