By definition, biomass is the total mass of organisms that are in any given area. When discussed from an energy perspective, biomass is any organic matter that can be used as a fuel. It is renewable and sustainable because it is sourced from organic materials. It comes from plants or plant-based materials that are not used for food or feed for animals and livestock.
Specifically, biomass comes from lignocellulosic biomass components. It becomes the building blocks for biofuels that can be used to power everything from trains to planes to automobiles – or even your home.
What Are Some Examples of Biomass?
Biomass may be any organic matter by definition, but there are certain types of materials that are commonly used as the primary component of the fuels that we used today. Many of the materials, in fact, are usually considered to be waste materials from other societal activities. Here are some examples.
- Scrap lumber that comes from construction projects.
- Forest debris that was removed to create a sustainable natural environment that is naturally resistant to forest fires.
- Crops that are grown specifically because of their rapid growth rates, such as sugar cane or bamboo.
- Manure from animals, along with some types of waste residues.
Municipal solid waste can even be used as biomass when it is properly processed. This way, whether it is a construction effort, a demolition activity, or something that a farmer is growing to support their families, biomass can come from resources that are not currently in use, but being produced on a daily basis.
Waste residues are always going to exist. Forests need to be properly managed so they can experience continuing growth. This is why biomass is considered to be a renewable power source.
How Does Biomass Create Energy?
Biomass creates energy because it is burned. As the heat is released, energy is created. A good example of this process is the use of a fireplace. When the wood is burned, heat is released. This energy helps to keep you warm. With the right equipment, this energy could also be used to create electricity.
Here’s how it works.
The biomass materials are burned so that heat can be released to produce energy.
That energy will then heat up water so that steam can be produced.
The steam that is produced is used to turn a turbine so that electricity can be created.
There have been two issues which have limited biomass as a power source in the past: the odors it can produce and the pollution it produces. Today, most facilities are able to produce fewer emissions that the burning of fossil fuels. When sustainable growing practices are also used for biomass, it can even become a carbon neutral proposition for some communities.
How Much Biomass Energy Is Created Each Year?
From data reported in 2010, biomass fuels are responsible for about 4% of the energy that is consumed in the United States every year. Nearly half of the biomass energy that is consumed comes from wood products or wood-derived items, such as sawdust pellets. Although power plants are available to create electricity from these wood products, the majority of biomass consumption from a wood perspective happens at an individual level.
Another 43% of the biomass energy that is created in the US every year comes from ethanol. You can find ethanol in a variety of products, including gasoline. Some vehicles have even been equipped to run on a fuel source that is 85% ethanol.
Municipal waste only accounts for about 10% of the current fuels that are used for biomass. This way more energy can come from waste that is often destined for landfills, allowing communities to have a renewable energy resource while protecting air quality, improving the health of local forests, and limiting waste accumulation.
Is Biomass the Future of Renewable Energy?
Biomass fuels have the potential to create a completely renewable and carbon neutral way to generate the power we need. At the moment, we have not achieved these goals through our production, but with technologies that can convert biomass directly into jet fuel, diesel fuel, and other forms of energy, the growth of the biomass energy could be exponential in the next decade.
One of the biggest contributors to today’s biomass industry is the black pulping liquor that comes as a waste product from paper production. By incorporating more biomass sources like this, we’ll be able to get the power we need and potentially make the world a cleaner, more sustainable place to live at the same time.
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.