As far as green solutions go, especially in the context of energy production and consumption, the two that get the most attention is solar and wind energy. This is because, solar and wind energy are far less polluting and harmful to the environment, compared to most other alternatives. However, there is a third-way, energy can be produced, and it is called biomass energy.
What is Biomass Energy, and is it Environmentally Friendly?
Any product that was once a living matter, whether it is wood, grains, leftover food materials, even sewage and animal waste, which all come under the umbrella of biomass, can be used to burn, which in turn can be used to create energy or electricity. For each type of material, there will usually be a chemical and biological process involved, before doing so. For example, grains like corn and canola can be used to make ethanol and biodiesel, respectively. Compared to coal, petroleum, and atomic sources, biomass-based fuels are much more nature-friendly. The main reason why biomass is considered to be a green energy solution is because natural products, even when used as a fuel, are considered to be carbon neutral.
Biomass Energy—the Three Types
Biomass energy usage and production can be divided into three different types. These are biogas, biomass fuels, and biomass electricity.
Biogas is produced by building a specially designed chamber. The chamber is filled with biomass products such as leftover food, wood chips and even cut grass and leaves. Once the chamber receives biomass products, it is heated and becomes an anaerobic digester. As the components of the chamber begin to breakdown, it will release methane gas. Methane gas is in turn tapped to use as a fuel.
Even though biomass fuels can be used interchangeably to describe anything organic, it also can mean something very specific. In this example, biomass fuels describe alternatives to petroleum-based fuels created by plant-based products. Corn and sugarcane can be used to make ethanol, and grains and seed like canola, sunflower, and soybean, can be used to create biodiesel. However, biodiesel is more expensive to produce compared to bioethanol.
A relatively newer trend in the biomass world is to burn biomass products to fire power plants. These are large scale facilities that are either purpose-built for biomass consumption or older plants that have been converted. In most cases, biomass power plants will use wood or farm waste to burn. However, wood is currently the most common fuel. Just like with coal and petroleum powered power plants, heat from burning wood is used to boil water and turn steam turbines to produce electricity.
The Case for Biomass Fuel
The biggest advantage of biomass sources is that it is naturally occurring, therefore, renewable. As mentioned, since it is plant and animal-based, it is also carbon neutral. For today’s energy consumption levels, biomass is not capable of producing all the energy humans need. However, it can greatly help reduce the burden put on traditional power sources. Getting political support for green energy solutions will require a grassroots effort.