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Sustainable Resources: Biomass Energy

Biomass is organic material from animals and plants. It can be used to create electricity and heat, as well as produce chemicals and fuels. If harnessed properly, bio-power can help nations to transition to a clean and stable energy path.

Biomass Sources

Biomass material comes from two main sources: energy crops and residues. When choosing a biomass source, it is important to consider how much energy it produces and its environmental side effects. For example, burning wood emits large amounts of CO2 into the air, so it is not considered a clean biomass source.

Residues – Animal manure is an excellent biomass residue since it is plentifully available in dairy farms. Agricultural residues are also in abundance, consisting of waste from pruning, leaves, stalks, and branches. Biomass residues can even be found in the form of methane gas in landfills.

Corn is an energy crop that is converted into ethanol or used as stove fuel.

Energy Crops – Corn is a common energy crop that can be converted into ethanol or used as stove fuel. Soybeans are also popular since they can be converted into biodiesel, soybean inks, and a variety of other bio-products. Other energy crops include sugar cane, oilseed crops, rice, cotton, wheat, and barley, but conversion technologies need to improve to efficiently harness them.

Wood is the most common biomass source.

Is Biomass a Renewable Energy Source?

Since energy crops and residues are consistently produced, biomass is listed as a renewable source of energy. It has the ability to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions, even though it still emits a moderate amount of carbon dioxide. Biomass energy can also reduce dependence on oil since biofuel is completely renewable and can be used to power many forms of transportation.

Biomass is grown from various trees including eucalyptus.

Biomass Heating

Biomass heating systems can be dated back thousands of years, back when people where burning wood to keep themselves warm. Today, large amounts of wood and other biomass fuels are burnt to provide heating for homes. Burning fuels for heat is cheaper than electrical heaters and reduces environmental waste.

Unfortunately, biomass heating has its drawbacks. Burning fuel releases carbon dioxide into the air that will not return to the earth for several decades.  Large amounts of wood are also required to create heat, which contributes to the disappearance of forests.

Biopower Potential

The US already gets 50-billion KW of electricity from bio-power, which consists of nearly 1.5% of the nation’s energy needs. In fact, biomass was the dominant renewable energy source until 2009, when it was overtaken by wind energy. If bio-power received more attention from governments, researchers would be able to find new ways to create cleaner and more efficient uses for biofuel. Needless to say, biomass energy has numerous environmental benefits. If created properly, it can maintain wildlife, protect soil quality, and reduce air pollution. As public confidence towards biomass improves, scientists will continue to be able to create beneficial  technologies to harness the immense biomass potential in an environmentally friendly way.

See also:

Sustainable Resources: Harnessing Geothermal Energy

What is the Efficiency of Wind Power?

Solar Energy Advantages and Disadvantages

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