Agricultural biomass supply chain greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting

Project number
Lead partner
Industry partners
Vireol, Drax Power, Farmway, 5barg8
Government sponsor
Start Date
Feb 2012
End date
Mar 2013
HGCA funding


The challenge

UK agriculture is likely to have a crucial role in biomass production for the renewable heat, power and transport fuel sectors in the future, as sustainability standards are developed and introduced, and the ability or attractiveness to import cheaper (perhaps less sustainable feedstocks) is reduced.

The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) has set ambitious targets for the EU, aiming for a 20% contribution from renewable energy by 2020. In order to achieve these targets, each member state has published a Renewable Energy Action Plan (REAP) which sets out their desired delivery mechanisms. The UKs response is the Renewable Energy Strategy (RES) which defines how the overall target of 15% of our energy mix coming from renewables by 2020 will be delivered. This is broken down as 10% of transport fuels, 14% of heat and 32% of power coming from renewables.

A number of policy instruments are in place to incentivise renewable energy generation;

  • Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) for transport, offering Certificates (RTFCs) for each litre of renewable transport fuel produced, covering bioethanol and biodiesel.
  • Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for non-domestic heat generation, covering biomass and biogas.
  • Renewables Obligation (RO) and Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) for power generation, covering large scale (>5MW) and small-scale (<5MW) power production respectively.

Under the RTFO and the RO, aimed at larger-scale generators, there are carbon and sustainability reporting requirements which are currently voluntary. However, from 2013 reports will become mandatory and, eventually, generators are expected to be rewarded according to the GHG savings made. Initially generators will be able to use EU default values for reporting GHG savings; as little information is available, these default values are conservative and only just allow most supply chains to achieve the minimum criteria. However, as more data becomes available or is fed into the calculation, the accuracy increases and the GHG targets are more easily achieved.

Domestically supplied feedstock relying on EU default values achieves the minimum criteria; however, with actual data this could be improved. There is a significant opportunity to improve the quality and availability of data to demonstrate how domestic feedstocks can exceed the required GHG savings by following good agricultural practice and to prepare suppliers and generators for the future.

Bioethanol from wheat, biodiesel from oilseed rape and bio-electricity from energy crops are the three main biomass-supply chains to which the UK supplies feedstock. These are the three areas under scrutiny in this project, with the aim of improving data availability and quality, to move from relying on the conservative default values to using more accurate actual values.

Using biofuels as an example, the default values suggest a 36% GHG saving for FAME biodiesel from oilseed rape and a 26% saving for bioethanol from wheat. However, when using actual values it is thought that this saving can be increased to 65 and 75% respectively. Likewise in renewable power, savings of 60% are proposed to eventually be linked to the receipt of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs); although UK energy crops are thought to be capable of exceeding this target, data is not widely available and has not yet been verified.

The project

This project is intended to collate and present greenhouse gas (GHG) data representing the UK agricultural supply chain for three industrial use crops; oilseed rape for biodiesel, wheat for bioethanol and miscanthus for bio-power. Data collated from relevant industrial contributors will be run through official GHG reporter tools hosted by Ofgem. Outputs will be presented as summary case studies to illustrate how UK feedstocks can achieve and exceed the desired savings, in order for generators and producers to remain eligible for the respective financial incentives in the future.

The outputs of the project are intended to inform farmers, advisers, policy makers and industry.   

The benefits

The case studies would be helpful to growers of wheat, oilseed rape and miscanthus to understand how easy it is for them to supply sustainable feedstock by following standard good agricultural practice in the UK. The case studies would also highlight where they can make improvements in the management of their crops, to improve on the carbon intensity figure to potentially make their feedstocks even more attractive to UK generators. This could eventually carry a price premium post-April 2013 when incentives are likely to be linked to the carbon intensity of a given supply chain.

The case studies will allow advisers, agronomists and consultants to prepare farmers to supply sustainable biomass to the renewable energy sector, following good agricultural practice standards, in the same way as the farmers would benefit, as outlined above.

Policy makers
The results will provide policy makers with sufficient evidence to allow them to justify the carbon intensity thresholds and the potential for achieving these thresholds with UK feedstocks. The case studies will be valuable for demonstrating how UK biomass can make a significant and sustainable contribution to our ambitious renewable energy targets

Following the recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) Bioenergy review, suggesting the carbon intensity figure should be further reduced for solid biomass to power from 285kgCo2/t to 200kgCO2/t, industry would benefit by understanding the value of sustainable domestic feedstocks and the importance of them for meeting the desired savings, and remaining eligible for the financial incentives post April 2013.

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