Biopower: The Next Big Alternative Energy Source

If we can use the sun, wind, water and earth’s heat to produce clean energy, why not use grass, wood, even pig manure? Bioenergy is fuel created from incinerating plant-based materials (biomass) such as agriculture or forestry waste. Bioenergy produces no net gain in greenhouse gas emissions because burning plant matter emits about the same amount of carbon dioxide as those plants absorbed during their lifetime of photosynthesis.

Turning the 400 million tons of U.S. agricultural wastes available annually into biofuel would cut the nation’s global warming pollution by about five percent, according to the Environmental Defense Council. Here are ways bioenergy is being used right now:

Biodiesel, a combination of vegetable and diesel oils, is used in the Northeast to heat homes–and demand is so great that there aren’t enough manufacturers to meet it.

• The University of New Hampshire is ramping up a bioenergy processor that will convert waste vegetable oil from campus dining halls to energy that will heat university greenhouses and buildings.

• University of Illinois researchers are designing a bioenergy factory for a commercial pig farm that converts manure to oil. The manure excreted by one pig during the factory’s production cycle could produce 21 gallons of oil.

Methane gas from feedlots and landfills can be captured and burned for energy.

• National Renewable Energy Laboratory experts envision a network of “biorefineries” that convert biomass into plant-based versions of the products petroleum refineries produce today.