The Biomass Environmental Assessment Tool (BEAT) was developed for the Environment Agency (EA) by Future Energy Solutions (FES) of AEA Technology Environment and North Energy Associates Ltd between 2004 and 2005. It was developed to provide in-house capability for EA field officers and other staff so that they could respond knowledgably, in their statutory capacity, to bioenergy technology proposals which are likely to be submitted by developers within the next five years. BEAT addresses the main environmental issues associated with bioenergy technologies in a quantitative or semi-quantitative way wherever possible, and in a qualitative manner where this is not possible.
Total primary energy inputs, as an indicator of energy resource depletion, and the main greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), as indicators of impact on global climate change, are calculated for a combination of 78 bioenergy technologies by means of transparent spreadsheets formatted in MS Excel 97. The original data for most of these bioenergy technologies was derived from a number of previous studies conducted by the Resources Research Unit of Sheffield Hallam University for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Other environmental issues were addressed qualitatively. These consisted of biodiversity, noise, odour, socio-economic aspects, soil quality, visual impact, water quality, water resources, releases to air, releases to land, releases to water, and transport. Information on these issues was based on the extensive knowledge and experience developed by FES on a range of diverse studies over a number of years. Both quantitative and qualitative information was assembled within a database formatted in MS Access 97. A users’ manual was also produced for the EA.
Considerable interest has arisen in BEAT since its completion mainly due to its use by the EA and subsequent discussions with bioenergy developers. However, BEAT is owned by the EA and it was configured, specifically, for the needs of their staff as they meet the obligations of the EA as statutory consultees on major biomass developments. Whilst the current version of BEAT provides a very sound and relevant basis for developing a subsequent tool which could be accessed and used by a wider range of users, it requires significant modification, improvement and extension to reflect the needs of these users, the range of issues and technologies of interest to these users, the availability of new data on these technologies, and the latest developments in related life cycle assessment and other tools. Issues of interest to a wider user group include consideration of economic aspects, a wider range of technologies (such as emerging liquid biofuel developments, anaerobic digestion and small-scale heat generation schemes that are not currently included in BEAT) and updated comparative data, such as comparison with the conventional sources that are actually being replaced (e.g. coal fired electricity for biomass co-firing).