Biomass energy isn’t well known, yet it is the oldest form of renewable energy used by humankind.
It’s actually been used since we learned how to make fire.
Quite simply, biomass is the energy that comes from burning plants or animal waste.
How does biomass energy work?
Plants capture the energy of the sun through photosynthesis.
The chlorophyll converts carbon dioxide from the air and water into carbohydrates, which are complex compounds of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. When the compounds are burned they break down into the singular forms and release the energy gathered from the sun.
Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide captured by plants millions of years ago, putting “new” carbon dioxide into the air. Biomass, on the other hand, is largely balanced by the carbon dioxide captured by the plants and then released when the energy is burned. It doesn’t emit extra carbon dioxide into the air.
The net output of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions will be negated by the new plants grown for biomass fuel as long as there are plants being grown in place of what is used to produce the energy. This is how biomass is a green energy and a potential renewable energy source.
However, it can create a carbon penalty if that biomass is gathered by cutting down forests. It is necessary to build the crop needed for the power on already cleared land (such as farm land) to avoid this penalty.
Main sources of biopower are plants, paper mill residue, scrap from lumber mills, and municipal/industrial waste. And it is hoped in the future that fast-growing trees and grasses, as well as algae, will be used.
What can biomass power be used for?
Biomass power is quite versatile as it can be used for heat, electricity, and liquid/gaseous fuels.
Chemical energy in biomass is converted to heat through burning of biomass.
Biomass can be converted to biopower and biofuels.
Liquid fuels can be used for transportation and gaseous/liquid fuels can burn more efficiently to generate better electricity. This can reduce dependency on foreign oil as biofuel is the only renewable liquid transportation fuel.
Electricity is generated and transferred to consumers via transmission systems, which can be used with small-scale issues such as powering a stove, or large scale issues such as general electric distribution.
It should also be noted that biomass that has been converted into chemicals and be used in making plastics and other materials that are typically petroleum based.
How are biomass power plants developed?
Facilities that help produce biomass energy in different ways are biomass power plants, biodiesel production plants, ethanol production plants, landfill gas collection systems, and biogas production plants.
- Biomass Power Plants: Plants which use biomass materials to create heat or steam.
- Biodiesel Production Plants: Plants which create biodegradable fuels that are used in diesel engines.
- Ethanol Production Plants: Plants which create the ethanol used in gasoline from converting biomass.
- Landfill Gas Collection Systems: Plants which create gas from landfill material wastes.
- Biogas Production Plants: Plants which, using anaerobic digestion, create methane from waste (human, animal, food).
What are potential problems?
If biomass energy is not managed carefully then it can wreak havoc on ecosystems and create air pollution such as greenhouse gases.
It can also use up a lot of water, which can be damaging for drought years. It is important the biomass energy resources be managed expertly in order to make it sustainable for the Earth and the people in it.
It is important that not just any biomass fuel is used. Biomass energy resources need to be grown for that specifically and harvested carefully in order to negate the carbon dioxide output.
Why biomass energy?
While biomass seems to be the least “green” of the renewable resources, it is indeed renewable with the chance to be green.
Though it has potential problems that could be harmful, it would be easy enough to manage and keep track of changes and patterns in order to tweak things into a well-organized, safe way to access this renewable energy resource.
Biopower has the potential to be a safe, clean, sustainable energy for the planet in years to come.