Biomass is the energy derived from the sun and stored in plants and animals. This energy can be released from biomass in several ways. Burning biomass produces heat (i.e. wood burnt in a fireplace). This heat produced by burning biomass can be used for generating electricity or for heating industries and homes. Biomass can also be converted into methane gas, raw material for natural gas, or ethanol and bio-diesel. Biomass is also a renewable source of energy.
Forms of Biomass
Wood: Since ancient times, wood has been used for heating and cooking. Wood waste is used to produce steam and electricity in the wood and paper products industries.
Garbage: The organic waste that is produced as garbage – food scraps, lawn clippings and leaves – is a source of biomass energy. Garbage can be burnt to produce steam that can be used for heating or generating electricity. When garbage rots in landfills it produces methane gas also called biogas, which is a fuel source.
Biofuels: Ethanol and Bio-diesel are biofuels blended with gasoline and diesel used for transportation. Ethanol is made from sugar found in grains such as corn, sorghum, wheat, potato skins, rice, sugarcane, sugar beets and yard clippings. Bio-diesel is made from vegetable oils, fats or restaurant greases.
Biomass energy reduces air and water pollution. It increases soil quality and reduces erosion. Biomass when burnt produces carbon dioxide and pollutes the environment and does produce acid rain. But growing biomass crops offset equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Burning of wood produces carbon mono-oxide and fine particles. Burning of garbage produces harmful gases which need to be filtered out to reduce their impact on the environment. Ethanol when blended with gasoline reduces its toxic pollutants but releases gaseous emissions that evaporate in the atmosphere.
Potential for biomass
Nearly 1.2 percent of electric sales in the U.S. come from biomass. About two percent of liquid fuel such as ethanol used in cars and trucks is made using biomass energy.
According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. can produce four percent of its transportation fuel from biomass by 2010 and 20 percent by 2030.