Demand for sustainably produced biomass is expected to increase with the need to provide renewable commodities, improve resource security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with COP26 commitments. Studies have demonstrated additional environmental benefits of using perennial biomass crops (PBCs), when produced appropriately, as a feedstock for the growing bioeconomy, including utilisation for bioenergy (with or without carbon capture and storage). PBCs can potentially contribute to all ten Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (2023-27) objectives and up to eleven of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provided they are carefully integrated into farming systems and landscapes. Despite significant R&D investment over decades in herbaceous and coppiced woody PBCs, deployment has largely stagnated due to social, economic and policy uncertainties. This paper identifies the challenges in creating policies that are acceptable to all actors. Development will need to be informed by measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas emissions reductions and other environmental, economic and social metrics. It discusses interlinked issues that must be considered in the expansion of PBC production: i) available land; ii) yield potential; iii) integration into farming systems; iv) research and development (R&D) requirements; v) utilisation options; and vi) market systems and the socioeconomic environment. It makes policy recommendations that would enable greater PBC deployment: 1) incentivise farmers and land managers through specific policy measures, including carbon pricing, to allocate their less productive and less profitable land for uses which deliver demonstrable greenhouse gas reductions; 2) enable GHG mitigation markets to develop and offer secure contracts for commercial developers of verifiable low carbon bioenergy and bio-products; 3) support innovation in biomass utilisation value chains; and 4) continue long-term, strategic R&D and education for positive environmental, economic and social sustainability impacts.
This research received funding from the European Union’s Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No 745012 (GRACE) and Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 727698 (MAGIC). The UK authors also thank EPSRC, BBSRC, Defra and UK Supergen Bioenergy Hub (EP/S000771/1) funding ref.RG15855 – UKRI (EPSRC), BBSRC (BB/V011553/1) for the Perennial Biomass Crops for Greenhouse Gas Removal (PBC4GGR) demonstrator project and was also undertaken as part of the UK Energy Research Centre research programme (UKERC-4, EP/S029575/1), Judith Ford’s contribution was supported by EPSRC EP/L014912/1 and The United Bank of Carbon. LB and MP acknowledge funding of the SDGnexus Network (Grant No. 57526248) funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) from funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) in the frame of the program “exceed—Hochschulexzellenz in der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit”.
Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEALThe data that support the findings of this study are openly available in dryad at https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.w6m905qtf.