Biomass – Eco-Friendly Renewable Energy

March 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Biomass, Featured

When most people think about renewable energy, they think of solar or wind power. Hardly anyone thinks of biomass, yet it’s one of the oldest forms of renewable energy for heating. Biomass is simply organic material made from plants or animals that is currently alive or recently dead. It doesn’t include fossil fuels, because their material has been dead and removed from the carbon cycle for so long that it can’t be adequately replaced. Biomass fuels provide about 3 percent of the energy used in the United States.

For renewable energy purposes, think of plant matter. A common example of renewable energy biomass is burning wood. Up until a century or so ago, the primary home heating source was wood. Today it is still used. Many homes have wood stoves, or the newer eco-friendly and economical wood pellet stoves. Since this biomass is plant matter, it can always be re-planted as it is used, and is therefore renewable. With responsible use, our supply of plant biomass never need run out.

Because burning biomass releases carbon dioxide, it is part of something called the carbon cycle. Carbon from the air is converted into biological matter through photosynthesis. Through death or burning, carbon re-enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. When plant biomass is used as fuel, the carbon dioxide released into the air can constantly be replaced with replanting, as new plants absorb carbon dioxide. The result is a neutral effect on the environment if every plant burned is replaced with a replant.

Though plant biomass s a great form of renewable energy, biomass can also come from animal matter, or even organic garbage. You don’t even have to use combustion to release the energy of biomass. It can also release energy by being converted to methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Crops like sugar cane and corn can be fermented to produce the transportation fuel, ethanol. Biodiesel can be produced from leftover food products like animal fats and vegetable oils. Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is released in landfills, and from agricultural and human waste. Its global warming potential is much higher than that of carbon dioxide. By collecting methane from biomass and using it to produce energy, it could actually reduce the harmful greenhouse gases that lead to global warming.

A great advantage of biomass fuel is its versatility. While solar or wind power has to be used immediately or stored in batteries, biomass that is converted to gas can be stored for use in burning or heating. It also can be converted to liquid to fuel cars, or a briquette similar to charcoal. In this way it is a renewable energy source that has the ability to be stored up like traditional fossil fuels, without the adverse affects on the environment.

As fossil fuel prices rise and their supplies come closer to being depleted, there is likely to be increasing research into renewable energy sources, including the green, convenient use of biomass fuel. Aside from the environmental benefits, using biomass for energy can cut back on waste and support agricultural products grown in the United States.