Longer term and more integrated policy work is needed to unlock the economic potential of turning waste into advanced biofuel, a House of Lords committee has heard.
The Science and Technology Committee was given evidence from experts in the sector during the first session of an inquiry on waste and the bioeconomy that took place on 12 November.
The Lords’ investigation is exploring ways to create “a multi-million pound economy from waste” using by-products from agriculture, industry and households.
Research indicated that in the UK there would be feedstock to produce enough advanced biofuel to meet between 3% and 13% of the transport energy demand in 2020, Bettina Kretschmer, senior policy analyst at the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), told the committee.
Advanced biofuel are high-energy liquid fuels made from a feedstock that is not used for human or animal food and can be sustainably produced with a renewable source of biomass, including municipal waste.
However, Kretschmer noted that the IEEP’s estimate did not consider factors constraining the development of infrastructure for the exploitation of the materials.
Jeremy Tomkinson, chief executive at the National Non-Food Crops Centre, told the committee that few biofuel plants will become operational in the next years because the UK policy environment was “not robust enough to make an investment case”.
He said that the UK legislative framework on the matter, namely the Renewable Energy Directive, had a limited timeframe, has it covered only the period until 2020.
“The majority of these plants would have 20 to 25-year life times,” he said. “A plant commissioned now would not be operational until 2017, and investors would be looking for returns in 2035 at least. All we can offer to investors is a 2020 position.”
He added that for this reason companies interested in building advanced biofuel infrastructures preferred to look elsewhere, for example in the US, where more “transparency” and “longevity” in policy were provided.
Ben Allen, senior policy analyst at the IIEEP, also stressed the importance of a long-term policy framework.
“Key actors in the European advanced biofuel sector (…) repeatedly said to us was that what they need is policy certainty, being it over a certain time frame or where the policy is going,” he said.
“[They told us] of course we would like the certainty that we would be able to invest in our fuel and processors, but equally if it is certain that there are not going to be incentives for that, that still give us a basis to make investment decisions.”
Tomkinson called for increased Government involvement in waste matters and said that the recent announcement by Defra of a reduction in policy work was going in the opposite direction.
He added that essential an alignment of policy initiative across government departments.
“We need better integration between the key departments, the Department for Transport, Department of Energy and Climate Change and Defra to decide the trajectories to take for [residual waste] materials and what is the best use for UK PLCs. Currently that does not happen.”
A spokesperson for the House of Lords said that several other sessions will follow. A date of a report on the inquiry had not been confirmed, she added.