Biomass is a generic term for any organic material that can be used to produce heat, electricity or transport fuel.

The original energy source is from the sun (solar), which creates organic matter through a proces called photosynthesis.

There are four basic groups of biomass material:

  • woody energy crops such as short rotation forestry and perennial crops like coppiced willow and miscanthus (also known as elephant grass
  • other energy crops such as oilseed rape, sugar beet, wheat and maize
  • agricultural residues such as cereal straw, manures and forest thinnings
  • wastes such as landfill gas, municipal solid waste, waste wood, poultry litter, abattoir waste and waste vegetable oils.

We support biomass as a renewable source of energy that combats climate change and can also contribute to other policy objectives, such as energy security. However, there are two key challenges:

1. Biomass energy should be developed in a way that provides the greatest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions possible at an acceptable financial cost.

2. Biomass should be produced sustainably in order that negative environmental impacts, such as on soils, groundwater, air quality, forests and water resources, are reduced as far as possible.

Reports and events

Our role

We have a number of roles with regards to biomass:

  • under the Environmental Permitting regime we regulate combustion installations over 50 Megawatts (MW) in size and over 3MW if they use waste as a fuel. We also regulate large biofuel production facilities.
  • we enforce waste regulation under legislation such as the Waste Incineration Directive and the Waste Framework Directive.
  • we are a statutory consultee on all planning applications covering more than one hectare, or requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • we act as a regulator on certain land quality legislation, such as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, and as an advisor to improve inland and coastal waters, especially with regards to achieving the aims of the Water Framework Directive in relation to diffuse pollution.
  • we act as an adviser to Government on climate change issues.
  • we advise Government on policy concerning flood risk, water quality and water resources, which both affect and are affected by policy towards biomass.

What you must do