Biomass is found everywhere and refers to all biological or natural matter like wood, wastes, crops and aquatic plants that can release heat when they are burned. This heat is called biomass energy.
It is used mainly for electricity generation, but also as fuels. Wood is the largest resource for biomass energy production, but plants like switch grass, corn, hemp, sugarcane, eucalyptus, willow and poplar, and even left over paper, landfill gasses, alcohol fuels, wood, trash, animal matter, and crops are also used too.
It is the second largest renewable energy source in the USA, next to wind energy. Its base is carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Through other processes like alcohol fermentation, anaerobic digestion (human, animal, and plant waste) and pyrolysis organic matter is converted to biomass.
Biomass wood energy uses second-generation bio-fuels to harness energy directly from the wood or collecting the wood from wood waste streams. Black liquor/pulping liquor is the largest wood energy source. Black liquor is the waste product from the pulp and paper industry.
The second largest biomass energy source is waste energy, the end product of municipal solid waste (MSW), manufacturing waste, and methane (landfill gas).
Alcohol based fuels are produced by sugarcane and corn, through the process of alcohol fermentation, a more complicated mode to producing waste energy (Anaerobic digestion).
Ethanol/ethyl-alcohol/grain alcohol is the biomass energy produced through alcohol fermentation by converting the starch in biological matter into sugar (by heating it). Yeast is added to this sugar and allowed to ferment and the product, ethanol is mixed with another fuel to produce “Gasohol”.
Methane is produced when human, animal and plant waste is mixed with water and stored in airtight tanks. The methane case is sent through a micro-turbine which powers a small jet engine that then produces electricity.
Cow manure also helps to produce electricity by its by-product methane. This process sends the methane through a micro-turbine which powers a “digester” which produces electricity.
The history of biomass is documented to have begun in England, in 1812 when the first commercial use of producing liquid oil from heating biomass materials in a O2 free environment was demonstrated. France followed in 1840 by using biomass gasifier. By the 1860s wood had become a staple source of energy in homes, industries and even for transportation.
In 1900 German inventor Rudolf Diesel showed how a diesel engine can run on peanut oil. In 1908, Henry Ford built an ethanol fermentation plant in USA to power automobile motors when he designed his Model T car. With the end of the World War II in the 1940s ethanol fuel industry was replaced by petroleum fuels.
1950s saw wood energy in domestic and industrial use was replaced by electricity and natural gas. In 1996 the Olympic Games in Atlanta opened a voluntary recycling and composting system, and today there is increased consumption around the world.
Besides it being renewable, it has the advantage of either being used in its pure solid form or being converted into gas or liquid for the production of chemicals, fuels, heat or electricity.
Also all this can be done efficiently and economically in one facility called the bio refinery. On an economic level, ethanol and other biomass energy production will help sustain many jobs, and cut down the cost of importing fossil fuels from other countries.
Amongst its advantages, the most prominent is its ability to pollute the air during its production phase, although it is still less compared with fossil fuel.
It also threatens forestation because trees are being cut to produce the energy, and this affects climate change. However, the impact of this is offset by the substitution of lumber mill and paper mill scrap, so fewer trees are being felled.
The future for the biomass energy industry in America is favourable, because it has the economic resources, agricultural groundwork and the land required for such large-scale projects.
There is widespread popularity of the concept and this coupled with economic resources may be the answer to the oil crisis that is almost underway.