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Biomass: Renewable Energy Source

Learn all about green biomass waste and how it can be used as fuel for space heating and factory processes.

| July 2017

  • Today, gasifiers use high-tech processes to produce a gas from solid biomass by heating it under very controlled conditions. This gas can then be converted to a liquid. Gasification facilities can be large or small, serving power plants that range from just a few kilowatts to 50 MW or more.
    Photo by Getty/abadonian
  • Sometimes specific crops and trees are grown just for biomass power. These are often referred to as energy farms. For many years, farmers have been growing switchgrass as a side crop for livestock feed and to control soil erosion. Now, some of these farmers are growing switchgrass as their main crop — an energy crop.
    Photo by Getty/sasapanchenko
  • Solid biomass is anything organic that has not yet broken down into a gas or a liquid. There are many kinds of solid biomass. Chipped wood, whole trees, energy crops, and agricultural wastes are examples.
    Photo by Getty/imanstu
  • “Energy for Keeps” by Marilyn Nemzer, Deborah Page, and Anna Carter offers insight on renewable energy for a wide audience of readers who use electricity.
    Cover courtesy Energy Education Group

Energy for Keeps ( Pixy Jack Press, 2010) by Marilyn Nemzer, Deborah Page, and Anna Carter explain renewable and nonrenewable resources with a focus on renewable energy for an end goal of increased energy literacy for the general public.  Biomass was one of the first energy resources, until replaced by fossil fuels, but this energy source is on the rise for many processes, including the production of electricity.

Biomass was one of the first energy resources ever used by humans. It includes anything that is or was once alive. Ever since the discovery of ways to create fire, humans have been burning wood and other organic material to create heat and light.

In the United States, biomass, mostly from trees, was the premier energy source until the 1830s. It was displaced by fossil fuels (mainly coal) when the Industrial Revolution took hold. Recently, however, the use of biomass, in a widening range of forms, has begun to increase. Today it is an important energy source for many processes, including the generation of electricity.

The Biomass Resource
Most living things receive and store energy from the sun. This energy is released when the organic material is digested, burned, or decomposed. This released energy can be used to produce electricity. Today, many kinds of biomass are used as energy resources.

Solid Biomass
Solid biomass is anything organic that has not yet broken down into a gas or a liquid. There are many kinds of solid biomass. Chipped wood, whole trees, energy crops, and agricultural wastes are examples. Other solid biomass sources are trimmings from forests and orchards; wastes from building construction, food processing, and paper industries; animal manure; and plain old garbage.

At home and at work people produce tons of waste each year, much of which is organic. Many of us produce a lot of this “green” waste just from cutting our lawns and trimming our trees and bushes.

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