An assessment of UK bioenergy production, resource availability, biomass gasification and life cycle impacts

  • Paul Adams

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Energy use and the environment are inextricably linked and form a key role in concerns over sustainability. All methods of energy production involve resource uncertainties and environmental impacts. A clear example of this is the use of fossil fuels which present three main problems, being: finite resources; significant contribution to environmental pollution; and reliance on imports. Hence there is a clear need to reduce the use of fossil fuels for energy. Bioenergy has the potential to both displace fossil fuels, and reduce the effect of climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide during the production of biomass. It is also possible that bioenergy can reduce the UK’s dependence on energy imports and boost the rural economy.This thesis provides an interdisciplinary assessment of bioenergy production in the UK. Due to the complexities of bioenergy systems several appraisal methods have been used. An initial study examined the barriers to and drivers for UK bioenergy development as a whole. It was found that for projects to be successful, bioenergy schemes need to be both economically attractive and environmentally sustainable. A biomass resource assessment was then completed using the South West of England as a case study. This demonstrates that bioenergy can make a useful contribution to the UK’s energy supply, due to the diverse range of biomass feedstocks currently available. However a range of barriers and constraints will need to be overcome if the UK is to reach its bioenergy potential.To assess the potential environmental impacts of bioenergy production different case studies were selected. Life cycle assessment is widely regarded as one of the best methodologies for the evaluation of burdens associated with bioenergy production. This was applied, alongside net energy analysis, to a small-scale biomass gasification plant which uses wood waste as a feedstock. As an alternative biomass source, the perennial energy crops Miscanthus and Willow were also assessed. Several different scenarios of biomass cultivation, transportation, and energy conversion were then compared, to assess the potential environmental impacts.Biomass gasification offers good potential for reducing fossil fuel use and climate change impacts. Nonetheless embodied energy in the construction phase can be high and other impacts such as particulate emissions, ecotoxicity and land use can be important. Therefore environmental benefits are maximised when both electricity and heat are utilised together, and when waste is used as feedstock. The ultimate applicability of biomass gasification is restricted by the quantity of feedstocks that can be made available for conversion. Perennial energy crops offer several advantages over annual crops including more positive energy balances and reduced agro-chemical inputs. However their cultivation needs to be carefully sited to avoid issues of land use change and the displacement of food crops.This study shows that each bioenergy production pathway needs to be assessed using a range of appraisal techniques, which include: biomass resource assessment, technical and economic feasibility, life cycle assessment and net energy analysis. It concludes that biomass gasification CHP offers an alternative to fossil fuel generation but more technical knowledge is required in the UK if it is to become widely used for biomass energy.
Date of Award1 May 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMarcelle McManus (Supervisor) & Geoff Hammond (Supervisor)


  • biomass
  • life cycle assessment
  • gasification
  • bioenergy

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