Many conventional energy sources, like fossil fuels, come with seriously harmful environmental impacts. Scientists predict that without major adjustments to save the environment, the Earth will cross an irreversible threshold by the year 2036. Biomass energy can form part of the solution.
What is biomass energy? This renewable energy source has been around for thousands of years, but many modern people still haven’t heard of it.
If you’re interested in saving the environment with different energy sources, this guide is for you. Read on to learn how biomass energy can help turn climate change around and preserve the environment for the future.
What is Biomass Energy?
Biomass energy simply means pulling energy from living things. When prehistoric humans first harnessed the power of fire, we started using biomass energy. One of the best ways to extract energy from once-living plant matter is to burn it.
In short, biomass means using organic matter for energy. This can include wood and other plant matter, but it can also include other surprising energy sources, like animal dung. The sources of biomass energy are known as “feedstocks.”
Biofuels made from plants, like corn, form another type of biomass energy. These plants are converted into fuels before getting turned into energy, but the concept remains the same.
Most biomass energy is renewable because plants can be grown and harvested again and again. That’s why biomass is such an environmentally friendly option.
Uses of Biomass Energy
What do people use biomass energy for? Let’s take a look at a few different types of biomass fuel to better understand their applications.
1. Industrial and Agricultural Waste
In some industries, the waste produced can get used as biomass fuel in different applications.
For example, some industries produce waste products like wood or uneaten food. The waste wood from a logging company can be burned as fuel for other applications. Waste food can be used as compost that will fuel new food growth.
In fact, compost can even create electricity. Composting in an anaerobic (without oxygen) condition creates gas that, when captured, can be used for electric power.
Old vegetable oil can be turned into bio-fuel to power vehicles. Farm waste, like straw and dung, can be burned and turned into power or heat. It can also be composted and reused as fertilizer.
It is important that people are careful with how they treat waste. Some waste creates emissions when burned that cause more harm than good. But many times, industrial and farm waste makes for great biomass energy sources.
Sometimes, the biomass feedstocks don’t come from waste. Many crops are grown specifically because they can be made into useful fuel sources.
A wide variety of crops can be used to make biofuel. Fermented sugar cane and sugar beet can make bioethanol. Fast-growing trees like poplar get converted into wood chips, which can generate power and heat as fuel sources.
Corn is one of the biggest crops used in biofuels. However, other plants, like wheat and grasses, also play a role in biofuel production.
Aside from fast-growing crop trees, other wood sources have their own place in biomass energy production.
In fact, wood might be one of the oldest and best-known biofuel sources. Every time you build a fire, you’re generating heat using biomass energy.
However, wood also has used outside of domestic settings. For example, combustion plants can make electricity using wood as the source.
There are many other sources of biomass feedstocks, aside from these basic categories. One of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to make biomass useful at large scale. As new sources and methods get tested out, people can make biomass energy more sustainable than ever.
Biomass Energy Production: Where Does Biomass Come From?
Now that you can see the sources of biomass energy, let’s take a closer look at how these feedstocks get turned into useful energy sources.
Many different processes get used in biomass energy production. These are some of the most common, using the materials listed above.
In this process, the feedstock gets exposed to extremely high heat and minimal oxygen.
The heat breaks down the molecules of the feedstock into a liquid called slag, which can be used in construction applications. Other molecules become syngas, made up of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This syngas gets cleaned and harvested, and then can be burned for electricity or heat.
Firing might be the easiest form of biomass energy production. It simply refers to directly burning the feedstock, so it will produce steam. That steam, in turn, can be made into electricity with the help of a turbine.
Sometimes, biomass gets “co-fired” alongside a fossil fuel. While this process still uses fossil fuels, it means you need fewer fossil fuels for the same application.
3. Anaerobic Decomposition
This term refers to harnessing energy from the composting process.
In anaerobic decomposition, microorganisms that don’t need oxygen feed on the biomass feedstock, breaking it down. The methane gas produced by this process may not smell pretty, but it forms a valuable energy source.
Another method of making biomass energy with heat is called pyrolysis. This method involves lower temperatures than gasification and no oxygen at all.
The biomass energy source goes through chemical changes and turns into syngas, an oil called pyrolysis oil, and biochar, the solids left behind. All three of these can then get turned into energy.
For example, the biochar works the same way charcoal does, while the oil may someday be a good substitute for petroleum.
How Biomass Renewable Energy Will Change the World
The answer to “What is biomass energy?” is long, as you can see. Many different sources and processes can be used to create this renewable energy source. But the most important thing about it is that these natural sources won’t run out.
Someday, biomass energy will change the world by fueling our lives in less-harmful ways. It’s already applied in countless industries. As the problems with fossil fuels grow, biomass energy will only become more popular.
Wondering what’s slowing biofuel development down? We have the answers.