In the developed world biomass is becoming more important for dual applications such as heat and power generation.
Biomass is a clean renewable energy resource derived from the waste of various human and natural activities. It excludes organic material which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum.
The energy of biomass is extracted from three distinct sources:
Wood is the largest energy source of biomass: contributors include the timber industry, agricultural crops and raw materials from the forest.
Waste energy is the second largest source of biomass energy. The main contributors are: municipal solid waste and manufacturing waste.
Alcohol fuels is the third largest contributor and is derived mainly from corn.
Any source can be used to fuel biomass energy production. We can use rubbish, animal manure, woodchips, seaweed, corn stalks and other wastes. Biomass is matter usually thought of as garbage. Some of the sources are just lying around: dead trees, left-over crops, woodchips, sawdust from lumber mills, even used tires and livestock manure will do.
In California, USA, more than 60 million tons of energy sources for biomass energy are collected each year. If all these sources were used to create biomass energy, California could make up to 2000 megawatts of electricity. That is enough to make electricity for about 2 million homes.
The harnessing of energy from biological mass (biomass) is a simple process. The waste wood and other sources are gathered in big trucks. The waste is then transported to a biomass plant. Here, the waste is fed into furnaces where it is burned. The heat created is used to boil water and the energy from the steam is used to rotate turbines and generators.
The second method, through which energy is created, is called Landfill Gas. When garbage is burned or is allowed to decompose it gives off methane gas. Pipelines are put into the landfills (pits in which garbage is burned) and the methane gas is collected. It is then used to make energy in power plants.
The use of biomass can help reduce Global Warming. Plants use and store carbon dioxide (CO2) when they grow. When it burns or decomposes, it releases the CO2. Replanting plants, crops or trees etc. ensures that the C02 is reused. If the plants are not replanted the biomass will disrupt the natural carbon equilibrium and thus continue to contribute towards Global Warming.
Biomass is renewable; we are going to carry on making waste products, plants and trees are going to die and the cycle will continue. This ensures that the sources contributing to biomass are always available.
The use of biomass can be environmentally friendly because the biological mass is reduced, recycled and then re-used.
Innovations and ideas in which biomass can be used are continually being invented. One such way is the production of ethanol, a liquid alcohol fuel. Ethanol can be used in special types of cars that have been manufactured to accept alcohol fuels instead of petrol. This innovation helps reduce our dependence on oil.
Biomass energy provides an alternative source of energy. In rural India biomass is used for cooking and agricultural growth. It has been very useful for village households that own cattle. Through a simple process the cattle dung is used to produce a gas which is then used as fuel for cooking. The surplus dung is used as manure.
The use of sugarcane to produce electricity is increasingly being used in Indian sugar mills: this is being done to clean the environment, cut down power costs and earn additional revenue. After the juice has been extracted from the sugarcanes, the leftover pulp - bagasse - is sold to power plants. Here, the bagasse is burned. The energy produced is then provided to the sugar mills.
Biomass power plants are becoming very popular. Using resources that are easily available makes the production of energy efficient and reliable.
South Africa's Bio-energy project sees its origins in Durban. The Ethekwini (Greater Durban) Municipality is considering using gas from three of its landfills to generate electricity for the city.
This project is in line with South Africa's agreement to uphold the regulations of the Kyoto Protocol and at the same time support the implementation of a Clean Development Mechanism.
The project is estimated to illuminate 9 000 homes which requires 10 Megawatts of electricity to be produced.
As much as 80 000 tons of coal could be saved per year, which would otherwise have been burnt and added to the greenhouse gasses already present in the atmosphere.
This project was initiated during the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The project is funded by the Prototype Carbon Fund - a funding organization established by the World Bank.
Biomass is an important source of energy and the most important fuel worldwide after coal, oil, and natural gas
Bio-energy, which is derived from biomass, is expected to be a pivotal resource which will contribute to global sustainable development.
Biomass is part of the carbon cycle. Carbon is taken in by plants during photosynthesis. On decomposition or combustion it goes back into the air. This ensures that there is always a stable level of carbon in the atmosphere. Therefore fossil fuels are not considered to be part of biomass. Their combustion releases carbon that has not been present in the atmosphere for millions of years. This therefore disturbs the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
Half a kilo of dry plant tissue can produce as much as 1890 KCal of heat which is equivalent to the heat available from a quarter of kilogram of coal.
A factory used to produce Biomass energy, through the use of plant matter.