The bioenergy sector could create 50,000 jobs in the UK by 2020, according to a Government report.
The study by the National Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials said 2,500 of these jobs could come in anaerobic digestion.
It was published alongside the Government’s Bioenegy Strategy, which predicted that the process of making energy from biodegradable food and wood wastes could supply up to 11% of the UK’s primary energy demand by 2020; and 16% in 2040.
Bioenergy could meet half the country’s renewable energy target, according to the strategy, which was launched to address feedstock supply, impacts and implications of different biomass uses.
The report says bioenergy was one of the most versatile forms of low carbon and renewable energy “as it can contribute towards energy generation across the energy spectrum of electricity, heat and transport”.
Bioenergy expansion will also divert waste from landfill and boost the waste management industry.
Energy minister Charles Hendy, waste minister Lord Taylor and transport minister Norman Baker said in a joint statement that the Strategy provided a “framework of principles” to govern future bioenergy policy.
They added: “Bioenergy can be an important part of the energy mix which will allow the UK to meet its energy and climate change objectives, including the 2020 renewables targets and 2050 carbon reductions targets.
“We are clear that only bioenergy from sustainable sources should be used to do this. We are confident that this strategy will provide stakeholders with clarity on Government’s vision for bioenergy and encourage the sustainable development of the sector.”
The strategy also recognises the potential impacts of bioenergy expansion on carbon reduction targets; other energy sectors and non-energy industries; and food production and prices.
Renewable Energy Association chief executive Gaynor Hartnell said all biomass must be “sustainable, deliver significant carbon savings and not impact on biodiversity”.
She said: “If it doesn’t meet strict criteria on sustainability, it won’t count as renewable. The UK currently imports 27% of its energy, and adding sustainable biomass to the mix improves the nation’s energy security as well as our green credentials.”
Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association, said there should be “clear sustainability criteria for land used for bioenergy”.
“Those criteria should be wide enough to include indirect benefits, such as recycling of nutrients and other additional support for food production,” she added.
But the strategy was slammed by anti-biomass campaigners.
Biofuelwatch co-director Almuth Ernsting said: “The Government’s claim that burning biomass is a climate friendly solution is contradicted by sound science.
“Logging and burning trees has been shown to produce more carbon dioxide than any fossil fuels that biomass seeks to replace. We call on the Government to instead favour genuine renewables like wind, solar, tidal, and wave, which we have in abundance.”