Although biomass releases carbon emissions into the atmosphere, Professor Thornley favours biomass because it is circular. She said: “As long as we keep the same forested area, we continue to sequester carbon. It’s a cycle. Yes, you chop the tree down.
“But you then grow again. Now if the forest area retreats, if we lose part of the Amazon, or if we don’t continue to expand woodland in the UK, then we have a problem. But if we keep the same area under forest we do not have a carbon debt problem. I want this to be really clear.”
Contrary to common belief, biomass is used extensively to produce energy. She said: “There was more energy produced from biomass last year than any other renewable source. It often gets disguised because it sits across all the sectors, electricity, heat and transport fuels.”
Her team at Aston University is also involved with projects that make biomass a more efficient source of energy. She said: “In my lab at the moment, we are working on producing biodegradable plastics from biomass material so that we’re closing that loop. We are working on higher value materials such as antioxidants and others that can be brought from waste materials. We’re looking at substitutes for building materials.”
She added: “We keep getting all these studies happening, telling us we could do this, we could do that, but without some investment and some commitment on particular things, actually nothing happens.”
How can biomass help us reach net zero? Watch the full video to find out.