Biomass is defined as any living or recently deceased organisms and their byproducts. In the world of energy production, it typically refers to plant/vegetable growth, but animals are also technically biomass. It is not coal, oil, or any fossilized plants or animals. Biomass is a living thing.
Biofuels are products that can be produced through biomass. These fuels, which include ethanol, methanol, and their synthetic equivalents, can be produced by processing corn, sugarcane, and soybeans into a usable fuel. To qualify, current regulations use non-food stocks of biomass to generate biofuels.
In the biomass vs biofuel debate, one cannot live without the other. Without biomass, there would be no biofuel. Without the demand for biofuel, there would not be a need to develop biomass technologies.
This means the focus of this debate must be placed on future technologies. And the future for this alternative energy industry looks very bright. Here’s why.
1. Any living material qualifies as biomass.
Since the only requirement in the US is to use non-food feedstocks to generate biodiesel and other fuels, research is focusing on producing our energy from waste products and growths that we currently would dispose of without a second thought. This includes perennial grass, wood chips, municipal waste, and even algae.
2. Many biomass stocks have multiple growing seasons.
The amount of biomass that can be produced is enormous, especially when the focus is providing non-food feedstocks. Some perennial grasses can be harvest 5-7 times over the course of a growing season in some climates. Sugar cane also has multiple harvests over a season. This allows us to reduce croplands that are dedicated to non-food resources, freeing up more food stocks in the process.
3. Biomass can be a carbon neutral proposition.
When sustainable growth and farming methods are used for biomass, the energy production cycle can be a carbon neutral proposition. This even includes the use of biofuels like biodiesel in the transportation network. This is because the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions that are produced by the biomass being burned can be absorbed by the plant growth that is intended for biomass production.
4. The economic viability of a community improves with biomass.
This is because of the sheer number of products that can come from biomass efforts. Communities can tailor their biomass production to meet specific local needs or create an export commodity that other communities can use. In return, we’re able to preserve farms, keep our forests, and reduce the threat of suburban sprawl.
5. Biomass reduces the need for environmentally harmful activities.
One of the most overlooked benefits of biomass is the fact that it also reduces the number of indirect greenhouse emissions that occur. If a forest or similar ecosystem is cleared so it can produce crops, the clearing and growing cycles all produce emissions. Biomass allows for that land to be diverted toward energy production instead.
The biomass vs biofuel debate shows an interconnected relationship with numerous potential advantages. As technologies continue to improve, expect more biomass products and energy resources to become available to the general market.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.