Biomass energy comes from biomass feedstock (crops and residues, farm animal wastes, industrial wood, etc.). The heat from this substantial renewable resource can generate electricity, fuel and other forms of energy. It has been estimated that just one eighth of the total biomass energy produced annually could provide all of humanity’s current demand for energy.
Some forms of biomass fuels (or biofuels), derived from biomass feedstock, can be solid, liquid, or gas. Kitchen scraps, sewage, the leftovers of the food processing industries, paper, sawdust, and lawn clippings are some of the available biomass energy sources. Biomass energy has received a lot of attention because an opportunity to convert waste into something very valuable has presented itself.
Biomass Energy – How can we use it?
Biomass energy can be converted to generate electricity, fuel vehicles and heat buildings using biofuel technologies. At the moment, biomass energy sources used in power plants include agricultural and farm residues, food processing residues, wood residues and methane gas from land fills. Biomass energy producers hope to significantly expand the supply of biomass energy by using trees and grasses as well.
Currently, there are more than 350 biomass energy plants generating 7,000 megawatts of biomass power in the United States. The producers who own these plants are quite diverse; they range from the electrical utilities, independent power producers, the wood manufacturing industry, and the pulp and paper industry.
Biomass energy is considered a renewable energy source because it can replenish itself (regrown), unlike fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which when used, are gone. And, unlike coal and oil, biomass energy is an alternative energy source because it doesn’t hurt the environment with harmful chemicals, such as carbon dioxide, which cause greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Using renewable biomass resources not only reduce greenhouse gases, but they also reduce air pollutants and landfill wastes.
Biomass Energy in Today’s Marketplace
Biomass Energy – Benefits of Cogeneration
Cogeneration, the practice of producing both electricity and useful heat, is a great way of improving energy efficiency. Some sawmills, for example, use a lot of heat from boilers powered by biomass energy to supply energy to their kiln-drying operations. But any extra heat can help gasify biomass energy fuels so they can be used in a gas turbine, which is more efficient than a simple steam boiler. Additional savings can be produced by using combined cycle technology, which takes additional waste heat from the gas turbine to give power to a steam-driven turbine.