Farming: Industrial crops: Energy

  • 12 March 2008 - Changes to support for biofuel.
    In his Budget statement the Chancellor announced that the fuel duty differential for biofuels will be abolished from 2010, and the buy-out price (the penalty fuel suppliers pay if they do not meet their renewable transport fuel obligation) will be raised to 30ppl. The previous Budget (2007) had already stated that the emphasis would switch from the duty incentive to the buy-out price mechanism in the RTFO over time. Abolishing the duty cut shifts the cost from taxpayer to industry/consumer. From 2010 support for biofuels will be based entirely on the RTFO, consistent with the aim of applying sustainability standards to biofuels qualifying for the obligation."
  • 23 January 2008 - The European Commission has published its proposals for a Renewable Energy Directive to implement the decisions agreed by EU Heads of State and Government at the 2007 Spring European Council.
    It includes an EU target for 20 per cent of total EU energy consumption to come from renewables by 2020, and as part of that a 10% minimum share for renewable transport fuels in each member state. Bioenergy is expected to play a significant role in meeting the targets, including biomass for heat and electricity as well as transport biofuels.  The Government plans a public consultation in the summer on the options for meeting our share of the EU 2020 renewable energy target.  We will publish our Renewable Energy Strategy in the spring of next year, once the EU Directive is passed and the UK’s contribution is decided. 

Most energy crops are grown using conventional techniques and agronomy skills and are used to generate heat and electricity or to produce transport fuels.

Crops for heat and electricity generation are chopped, chipped or baled and are usually burnt directly in stoves and boilers, mixed with coal for use in conventional power stations or used in dedicated biomass power stations.

Transport fuels cover the diesel alternative biodiesel, and a petrol additive/ substitute called bioethanol. At present, biofuels are usually mixed in a 5% biofuel/95% fossil fuel blend and used as a fuel for conventional vehicles.

What are the energy crops?

The main energy crops are:

For the generation of heat and electricity:

  • short rotation coppice (willow or poplar) - densely planted, high-yielding varieties of either willow or poplar, harvested on average every 3 years, or ash, alder, hazel, silver birch, sycamore, sweet chestnut, or lime harvested on a longer rotation; a plantation could be viable for 30 years before re-planting becomes necessary
  • miscanthus – a woody grass from Asia.  Once established, it can grow to 3.5m and can be harvested annually for at least 15 years
  • Canary Grass – a coarse perennial grass that grows 2m high.  It can be harvested annually for 5 years
  •  straw
  • forest material and tree management residues

For the production of transport fuels:

  • cereals (wheat) – the use of enzymes and fermentation technology can convert cereals into bioethanol
  • oilseeds – industrial oilseeds are grown like a food crop. The harvested crop is sent for crushing and refining to produce biodiesel
  • sugar beet and fodder beet – like wheat, sugar beet can be converted to bioethanol
  • looking ahead, it is possible that wood, straw and even household wastes may be economically converted to bioethanol

Grants, information and support for bio-energy production

There are a number of schemes and grants available to support bio-energy production covering:

  • crop production
  • industry infrastructure
  • end-users

See the bio-energy page for further details on these.

The drivers for bio-energy

The UK has a legally binding target under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. It also has a further domestic goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (one of the main greenhouse gases) by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010.

For details on the progress being made and initiatives being taken see the separate key drivers page for bio-energy.

Useful links


External links

Page last modified: 12 March 2008
Page published: 1 July 2006