Biomass energy is an abundant energy source from organic materials like wood, algae, agricultural and forest leftovers, or crops like corn and soy. It is the oldest energy source available to humans. About 5% of the primary energy utilized in the United States in 2017 came from biomass sources, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported.
The usage of biomass energy dates back thousands of years, initially for domestic purposes like cooking and heating, and subsequently expanding into industrial uses like manufacturing. To produce power, biomass has emerged as a significant renewable energy source in recent years. According to EIA estimates, biomass contributed only around 2% of total U.S. power output in 2018. In the same year, solar contributed roughly 2.3% of the total electricity generated in the United States.
Biomass energy, often known as bioenergy, is a form of renewable energy that can be generated from any number of different types of live or recently dead organisms. Bioenergy, like other forms of renewable energy, is a transformation of the sun’s rays that reach Earth. Sunlight is converted into biomass directly by plants through photosynthesis or indirectly by animals eating those plants. Plants and other animals use the energy in sunlight to transform carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into complex carbohydrates, which are then stored in the plant’s biomass. This process is known as photosynthesis. Burning biomass releases the chemical energy held in the carbohydrates as heat while reducing the biomass to carbon dioxide and water. Biomass can either be burned as is or processed into refined fuels.
All plant and animal matter are considered biomass energy sources. Trees, grass, and crops all store energy that can be harnessed, and their waste products can be put to good use. Forestry and agricultural byproducts that would normally be thrown away can be converted into usable energy by using organic waste products. Bioenergy can be produced from virtually any organic material, including food and paper industry waste. Waste-digestion gas (or LFG), which is roughly 50% methane, is another viable biomass energy source.
The energy content of the biomass of different plants varies, yet all biomass can be converted into usable energy. Typically, these energy crops are plants that are cultivated with the express purpose of extracting energy from their biomass. Biofuels and biogases can be made from the following diverse array of crops: Ethanol can be fermented from a variety of crops, including corn, wheat, sugar cane, and others. Corn is used in the manufacturing of 90% of America’s ethanol. Biodiesel is distilled from oilseed crops like soybeans, canola, and sunflowers. Animal fats, leftover cooking oils, and grease are also utilized to create biodiesel. Soybeans are the primary source of the United States’ biodiesel, accounting for 54% of the total. In terms of biomass energy production, the United States relies on wood and forestry leftovers more than any other material.
Converting Biomass to Energy, Maryland
Energy can be produced by either directly burning biomass or combining it with fossil fuels. Biomass in the form of solids, such as wood, grass, or waste, can be stored simply and then burned to generate electricity when it is needed. Converting biomass into liquid, solid, or gaseous fuels is another indirect use of bioenergy. Direct combustion of these biofuels can produce heat, electricity, or mechanical energy.
Methane gas and alcohols like methanol and ethanol can be produced from biomass. Gas turbines run on methane to produce heat and electricity, whereas fuel cells are powered by methanol. Vehicles, trucks, and trains could all be powered by electricity generated by tiny power plants called fuel cells. In order to use ethanol as a fuel, it must be combined with gasoline. Up to 10% ethanol is frequently blended with the gasoline sold at the pump. Methane is a byproduct of ethanol fermentation. Diesel fuel and home heating oil share a common ingredient: biodiesel, a distillate of plant oils, animal fats, or algae.
Across the United States, biomass energy, a form of renewable energy, is readily available. Utilizing otherwise wasted methane from sources including landfills, animal dung, and sewage treatment plants has the potential to significantly cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas with the potential to be 28–36 times as effective as carbon dioxide, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States. When burned, biomass releases exactly the same amount of carbon dioxide as it took in throughout its growth.
Economically, biomass is especially important for rural communities because it is often generated, gathered, and processed within such regions. Biomass power plants improve energy security in the area while also creating local, long-term employment opportunities in the fields of energy generation, forestry, and agriculture. Using plant and animal byproducts for energy reduces the quantity of trash sent to landfills. Waste management issues, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and perhaps even reliance on fossil fuels can all be mitigated by switching to the usage of energy produced from waste biomass.
Biofuel prices tend to be more stable over time, while fossil fuel prices fluctuate often and tend to rise. Wood, woodchips, and other solid biomass energy sources are readily available even when it’s not the peak season for their use. Burning wood or woodchips for energy production is a simple and inexpensive way to reduce your carbon footprint at home. It’s possible that you could even gather enough to supply yourself.
You may even manufacture your own biogas at home with a digester if you’re considering grid independence or if you just want to make use of the biomass your backyard produces. Digesters are like enclosed compost bins; they hasten the decomposition of organic matter and collect the methane produced in the process. They’re making fertilizer as a waste product.
Biomass is useful in transportation in other ways as well. Changing to biodiesel or a flex-fuel vehicle will make your car or truck better for the environment and less polluting. Vehicles having a flexible fuel capability (FFV) can use gasoline with up to 85% ethanol (E-85). Corn is the primary ingredient in ethanol. Making use of biomass energy at home is simple if you compost. Composting is as easy as putting all organic waste in a pile and then using it as a fertilizer for your garden.