Public Concern Over Bioenergy’s Impact On Food Production

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There is strong public support for producing bioenergy in the UK from both biomass and waste, according to a public perception survey. However, there are concerns over the effect of bioenergy on food production, results revealed.

The survey, conducted by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), revealed 80% of respondents were in favour of bioenergy playing a bigger part in the UK energy mix. Levels of support for bioenergy compare favourably with levels of support seen for other renewable energy technologies.

Respondents associate bioenergy with a wide range of positive features, particularly the fact that bioenergy can be generated from waste materials. It is also seen as a renewable source of energy that can reduce the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Over a third of respondents, however, were concerned about the potential for biomass feedstocks to compete with other land uses, such as food production. However, over half of respondents thought that land in the UK could be used more productively.

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ETI case studies have shown that biomass feedstocks can be planted successfully on otherwise low-yielding land, and when sited considerately, can complement, rather than compete with, food production, it says.

A significant reliance on imported biomass was viewed negatively by survey respondents. However, respondents were also concerned about the impacts of importing food and other fuels, suggesting that concerns over imports are not limited to biomass feedstocks.

Some concerns may be alleviated by demonstrating that imported biomass is used in addition to, rather than instead of, feedstocks that can be sourced in the UK, ETI suggests.

There is no significant preference for bioenergy to be generated in either rural or urban locations, or at a particular scale.

The UK Government is the most popular choice to lead the development of the bioenergy sector. However, respondents also value the role of scientists/academics, environmental groups and consumer/industry watchdogs, and identified them as the most reliable sources of information about bioenergy.

This presents an opportunity for different organisations to work together to increase awareness and understanding of bioenergy, in parallel to developing the bioenergy sector in the UK.

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