What is Bioenergy?
Bioenergy is the energy which is stored in biological matter or “biomass”.
This can be anything from plants to straw to slurry to food waste and even sewage.
When these materials are used for their energy content, they are referred to as “feedstocks”. Sometimes feedstocks are grown specifically for their bioenergy content (known as “energy crops”), while others are waste products from industries such as agriculture, food processing or timber production.
How does biomass generate energy?
This depends on the type of biomass being used.
Dry, combustible feedstocks are burnt in boilers or furnaces, while wet feedstocks are put into sealed tanks, where they create biomethane gas as they rot.
This gas is captured throughout the rotting process and is then burnt.
Burning the biomass or biomethane produces heat which can be used to warm homes, shops and offices, or it can be used to drive steam turbines to generate electricity much in the same way as coal or gas fired power plants.
Bioenergy is a very flexible source of energy (it can be stored, and then turned up and down quickly to meet demand) which makes it a great backup for other renewable technologies, like wind turbines and solar panels, which depend on the weather to generate electricity.
Is this form of energy environmentally friendly and sustainable?
While the burning of biomass will release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, if you look at the entire cycle of bioenergy it can be a zero carbon and sustainable source of energy.
How is this possible? The answer depends on whether waste feedstocks or energy crops are being used.
Waste biomass gives off gases naturally through the rotting process. If this happens in the absence of oxygen, such as when buried deep in landfill, it creates methane which is a very damaging greenhouse gas. Instead of allowing methane to vent into the atmosphere, the bioenergy process captures it and burns it – converting it into carbon dioxide and water vapour which is much better for the environment. Also, using the energy from burning biomass reduces the need to extract and burn climate-damaging fossil fuels.
Energy crops are different, as they are produced specifically to be a source of bioenergy so, unlike waste, the argument that burning them reduces greenhouse gases which would have been given off anyway is invalid.
But, energy crops can still be low carbon as long as they come from sustainable sources. In other words, when an energy crop is burnt, an equivalent crop should be grown to absorb the same amount of carbon as was released by the burning. When this new crop is burnt, it too should be replaced, and so-on.
Does Good Energy supply bioenergy?
Yes. Currently 6% of the gas that Good Energy supplies is biomethane and 19% of the electricity we supply is generated from bioenergy.
We have a biogeneration procurement policy to ensure that all the bioenergy we buy and sell is done so in a responsible and sustainable way.
This means that we only source our gas and electricity from UK based organisations which share our ethics and values.
What does our biogeneration procurement policy cover?
Our biogeneration procurement policy keeps our energy supply as clean and ethical as possible:
- Bioenergy must come from waste or sustainable sources
- Land must be used sustainably, respecting natural habitats and biodiversity
- Energy crops must not impact food production
- Animal welfare must be respected
- Transportation of biofuels should be minimised
- Biofuel generators should be highly efficient and able to put waste heat to good use
- Impacts on air quality must be appropriately managed
- Green Gas must be certified under the Green Gas Certification Scheme
We will only supply bioenergy to our customers that meet all these requirements.
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