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Open Access Research

How can accelerated development of bioenergy contribute to the future UK energy mix? Insights from a MARKAL modelling exercise

Donna Clarke1, Sophie Jablonski2, Brighid Moran3, Gabrial Anandarajah4 and Gail Taylor1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

2 Imperial College Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, Mechanical Engineering Building, London, UK

3 Institute for Energy Systems, School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

4 Geography Department, School of Social Science and Public Policy, King's College London, London, UK

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2009, 2:13  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-2-13

Published: 3 July 2009

Abstract

Background

This work explores the potential contribution of bioenergy technologies to 60% and 80% carbon reductions in the UK energy system by 2050, by outlining the potential for accelerated technological development of bioenergy chains. The investigation was based on insights from MARKAL modelling, detailed literature reviews and expert consultations. Due to the number and complexity of bioenergy pathways and technologies in the model, three chains and two underpinning technologies were selected for detailed investigation: (1) lignocellulosic hydrolysis for the production of bioethanol, (2) gasification technologies for heat and power, (3) fast pyrolysis of biomass for bio-oil production, (4) biotechnological advances for second generation bioenergy crops, and (5) the development of agro-machinery for growing and harvesting bioenergy crops. Detailed literature searches and expert consultations (looking inter alia at research and development needs and economic projections) led to the development of an 'accelerated' dataset of modelling parameters for each of the selected bioenergy pathways, which were included in five different scenario runs with UK-MARKAL (MED). The results of the 'accelerated runs' were compared with a low-carbon (LC-Core) scenario, which assesses the cheapest way to decarbonise the energy sector.

Results

Bioenergy was deployed in larger quantities in the bioenergy accelerated technological development scenario compared with the LC-Core scenario. In the electricity sector, solid biomass was highly utilised for energy crop gasification, displacing some deployment of wind power, and nuclear and marine to a lesser extent. Solid biomass was also deployed for heat in the residential sector from 2040 in much higher quantities in the bioenergy accelerated technological development scenario compared with LC-Core. Although lignocellulosic ethanol increased, overall ethanol decreased in the transport sector in the bioenergy accelerated technological development scenario due to a reduction in ethanol produced from wheat.

Conclusion

There is much potential for future deployment of bioenergy technologies to decarbonise the energy sector. However, future deployment is dependent on many different factors including investment and efforts towards research and development needs, carbon reduction targets and the ability to compete with other low carbon technologies as they become deployed. All bioenergy technologies should become increasingly more economically competitive with fossil-based technologies as feedstock costs and flexibility are reduced in line with technological advances.