These days, there are all sorts of ways to capture energy—whether thermal energy from the earth, solar radiation from the sun, or even nuclear energy. However, one form of renewable energy that tends to receive less limelight than say wind energy or hydroelectricity is biomass energy. But what is biomass energy? Is it really better for the environment? And why would anyone consider making this switch to this renewable energy source in spite of an upfront installation cost? In this article, we aim to answer these questions and more so you will know everything you need to know about biomass energy—including whether or not it is the right solution for your property!
What Is Biomass Fuel?
What Is Biomass Energy?
As you might have inferred from the name, “biomass” energy refers to fuels naturally derived from organic matter—namely animal and plant products like wood chips, animal waste, etc. While alternative energy scientists are still working on maximizing efficiency for this source of energy capture, humans have been using organic materials to generate heat and light for thousands of years—a method that is still widely used in developing countries as a source of radiant heat and cooking. This type of energy is considered “renewable” in that it takes abundant, easily reproduced sources of fuel and transforms that into energy—unlike unsustainable power sources like fossil fuels, coal, or natural gas, of which there are finite amounts on the planet.
At the root of all biomass energy lies stored chemically stored energy from the sun, first through plants during photosynthesis and then through the animals that eat those plants. Wood chips and other forms of wood byproducts and “waste” are another way organic matter captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then releases it during combustion for a carbon-neutral energy exchange.
What Are the Different Kinds of Biomass Fuel?
There are many different sources of fuel that work for biomass energy—though perhaps the most accessible and recognizable of these is wood products—from chips, pellets, sawdust, and paper mill pulp, to other forms of lumber waste, this type of fuel also includes regular cured firewood and harvested and foraged wood as well. However, while this remains a popular source of biomass fuel due to its abundant and relatively cheap nature, there are other ways to creatively use organic matter for fuel as well, including:
· Animal and human waste and sewage, which can be transformed into natural “biogas”
· Organic materials found in municipal solid waste, including paper and fabric products, compost, yard waste, leaf litter, and more
· Waste or discard from harvested crops, including rotational crops, soy, corn, and even algae, which can be used to create “biofuel”
· Animal and vegetable fat waste, as from fat fryers
Because there is an array of different types of organic materials that inherently capture and store energy from the sun, there are an array of approaches to converting that trapped potential into converted energy. This is typically done by burning the material (i.e. combustion) or through converting solids into gas or liquid fuel via thermochemical conversion, chemical conversion, or biological conversion.
Which Biomass Fuel Is Best?
When organic matter is transformed into biomass, biogas, or some other form of carbon-neutral biofuel, generally efficiency rates for biomass energy land between 85%-90%. How does this stack up to other forms of renewable energy? According to recent research, bioenergy is considered a highly efficient form of alternative energy, creating as much as eight times the energy than it takes to produce.
All biofuels require some form of treatment—whether that’s simply curing out wood products for better combustion or transforming food waste into biogas. Since all biofuels are carbon neutral and quite efficient, the best biomass energy source for your needs is the one that is most abundant and affordable. For example, if you work as a carpenter or furniture maker, finding ways to harness the energy of your wood scraps will save money and carbon emissions. Likewise, if you run a restaurant, conserved food waste can be converted into fuel.
What Biomass Fuel Is Cheapest?
As we just mentioned, the cheapest biomass fuel will vary region by region. For example, if you live in an agrarian area with lots of corn or soy products, the waste produced with each harvest can be utilized to harness energy for a relatively low cost when compared to other areas that might not have such an abundance of these products. Likewise, areas that manage forests and wood product production are likelier to have an abundance of wood scraps to turn into pellets. If you’re unsure of what biofuel is most affordable in your area, try resources like this one to get an idea of what type of bioenergy to invest in.
What Are the Benefits of Renewable Energy?
You don’t have to be a tree-hugging environmentalist to be interested in renewable energy sources like biofuels. In fact, there are practical benefits as well as moral ones, including:
1. Reduced dependence on foreign sources of fuel: By investing in renewable energy harnessed in the U.S., we are reducing our need to lean on foreign nations that will happily take our money. This not only has political implications but can influence foreign policy, peacekeeping efforts, and international relations as well. Biofuels allow us to take the politics out of our fuel source and focus on becoming self-sufficient.
2. Local job creation: It’s no secret that the renewable energy industry is growing as more and more infrastructure and jobs are creation. This provides more opportunities for working American families—including those previously working in unsustainable industries like coal production—an opportunity to work for clean energy sources.
3. Financial benefits: Biofuels typically cost about the same as unsustainable forms of energy like natural gas—but they are highly efficient, relatively low-maintenance, and often also come with tax incentives. Why wouldn’t you want to save money each year when it came time to file?
4. Independence and autonomy: The American spirit is one of independence and courage. Becoming self-sufficient not only means you will not rely on systemic energy production but also means that you may even have the opportunity to sell back unused energy to the local power grid.
5. Uses waste materials as cheap fuel, sustainably: Biofuels use matter that would otherwise be considered trash (of which there is no shortage on this planet, and humans produce more and more every day) and turn it into energy. This brilliant use of food scraps, wood byproducts, and other organic matter destined for the landfill is not only saving space in our landfills for less energy-rich materials but comes from sources that we will always have in abundance—i.e. renewable sources, like plant waste.
For those interested in the environmental impact of biofuels, this energy source reduces greenhouse gas emissions each year by over 30 million tons of CO2.
Invest In Your Future With Renewable Biomass Fuel Energy Systems
There are many different types of biomass fuel, and several ways to harness energy from organic matter that has absorbed solar energy during its lifecycle. This is not only a pragmatic choice for many Americans in terms of financial rewards and frugality but in terms of paving a better path for our children and their children by protecting our planet. Not only is this means of energy production more efficient, but it invests in American energy independence, local economies, and creative ways to make the most out of what would otherwise become waste.