Biomass Basics

Biomass Basics

Biomass energy or “bioenergy” is energy from plants and plant-derived materials. Wood and wood products are the largest source of biomass fuel with many companies supplying bulk hardwood pellets for those who use them. However, other sources are being tested and used including; crops, grasses, woody plants, algae, residual waste from agricultural forestry and the organic components of municipal or industrial wastes. In some cases, methane fumes from landfills are being recovered and used as a biomass source. If you would like to learn more about how to use this type of energy, then check out this biomass information here.

Biomass, for the most part, is greatly beneficial-it can be used as fuel, a power source and other products in place of more energy intensive and polluting fossil fuels. The advantages to replacing fossil fuels with biofuels include:

Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions: While burning biomass produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as burning fossil fuels, the carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels was captured by photosynthesis millions of years ago and that released from using biomass energy is largely balanced out from its own growth. This is, of course, dependent on how much energy was required to grow, harvest and process the fuel. In the case of ethanol production or forest clearing just for the purpose of growing biomass crops an imbalance is created which takes years to recoup. It is best to grow biomass crops on abandoned or under utilized farmland or unused, low-value greenspace.

Use of biomass means relying more on domestic fuel production: Using biomass can reduce dependence on foreign oil because biofuel is the only liquid, renewable fuel source that can be used for transportation purposes.

Biomass usage supports domestic industry: Paper mill residue, lumber mill scrap and municipal waste are the primary feedstock for power sources. The main feedstocks for biomass fuel are corn and soybeans. Technology is currently being developed to make ethanol production more efficient by using the stalks, leaves and husks of the plant and wheat stalks will also be utilized. In the near future plans will be implemented to cultivate dedicated energy crops such as fast-growing trees, algae and grasses. All of these feedstocks can be sustainably grown on land not suitable for intensive food crops.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (http://www.nrel.gov/about/)is currently working on developing technologies to design and build bioenergy refineries which will convert biomass into energy, materials and products. The lab is continuously researching and developing advanced technologies for biomass energy applications such as biofuels (converting biomass into liquid fuels for transportation), biopower (burning biomass directly, or converting it into gaseous or liquid fuels that burn more efficiently, to generate electricity) and bioproducts (converting biomass into chemicals for making plastics and other products that typically are made from petroleum).

For more information about biomass and its applications and advances please visit: http://www.eia.gov/renewable/data.cfm#biomass.