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What is biomass energy?

What is biomass energy?

Bioenergy is biological energy. Bioenergy allows living beings to move, have brain activity, food production, and biological tissue synthesis.

The concept of "bioenergy" is used both in:

Biomass is a substance of organic material produced by organisms, including plants and animals. We do not consider fossil fuels as biomass. The substances of organic matter transformed by geological processes are not part of them.

Biomass is the biological material that is obtained from biological processes such as photosynthesis by producers. This biological production varies significantly according to the ecosystem, the community, and the biome. Producers on land are mainly terrestrial plants; in the oceans, they are mostly algae.

This energy content burning biomass is considered a renewable energy source. Biomass feedstocks include forest product waste, agricultural residues, organic fractions of municipal wastes, plastic, cardboard, paper, food trash, and green debris.

At present, technologies for processing biological raw materials have found wide application to:

  • Solve the problem of environmentally safe disposal of organic waste.

  • Reduce environmental pollution.

  • To obtain alternative energy.

What is carbon neutral?

Carbon neutral (carbon neutral) is one of the terms of environmental chemistry. The concept that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted and the amount absorbed in a process is the same.

Burning biomass, the CO2 emitted is the same that it would be emitted naturally.

It does not generate more greenhouse gas emissions than it would be generated naturally. Contrarily, burning fossil fuels release gasses that would have been stored under the floor.

How can we take advantage of biomass energy?

This energy source can have multiple functions:

  • Food crop

  • The raw material for furniture, buildings, and paper

  • In petrochemical products to make intermediate chemicals. Later, these products will be the source to make bioplastics, feed additives, and cosmetics.

  • Fuel for energy production that can be electricity or heat.

Biomass for power generation 

Most of the biomass can be converted into energy by combustion. The applications of this energy are the generation of heat, electricity, or the impulse of means of transport.

Examples of biomass for power generation are wood pellets, sugar cane, corn, rapeseed oil, palm oil, and animal fats.

This type of renewable energy can be processed in various ways, including conversion to gas or liquid fuel. Different conversion processes are used for ease of use.

Below we list different forms of consumption for energy applications:

  • Plants waste incineration (paper, wood, organic waste)

  • Co-combustion of biomass in power plants

  • Biomass fireplaces (combustion in chimneys, inserts, wood stoves, pellet stoves, charcoal consumption)

  • Biomass boiler companies (electricity generation, heat)

  • Biogas (from landfills, sewage treatment plants, manure co-fermentation, others)

  • Liquid biofuel (bio petrol, biodiesel)

Fuel in power plants 

Several coal-fired power plants add some biomass to their fuel, for example, by adding wood pellets to coal. Most of this biomass comes from abroad.

Thanks to the co-combustion of biomass, the use of coal is reduced. The production of electricity is considered partly neutral in carbon dioxide (CO2 ). 

In addition to biomass co-combustion, some smaller plants only burn with locally produced biomass.

In waste incineration plants, paper, and cardboard that are not collected separately are also burned for power generation. Organic waste, a form of wet biomass, has low energy efficiency when burned.

Fuel for transportation 

It is sometimes referred to as a second or third-generation biofuel.

  • First-generation: wood, sugar cane, corn, palm oil, rapeseed oil, biomass directly derived from the crop

  • Second-generation: refined biodiesel or alcohol, substances produced by a chemical process from biomass, used cooking oil, animal fat.

  • Third-generation: biomass produced by specially prepared organisms, such as algae, containing more than 30% oil.

Technological uses of biomass energy

Man found out that biological entities could burn. Then, he thought that this was the "spirit" that made biological entities animate, move, and live.

The prehistoric man used the heat of the burnt wood to heat and illuminate the night. He cooked the foods that became softer and more digestible. Later he discovered that he could change all the subjects. It produced new materials such as bricks, glass, and metal alloys.

Later on, the man also discovered the heat force that could vaporize the water and move a steam engine. By improving the machines, man found fossil energy mines: coal and oil.

Residues of flora and fauna imprisoned in the subsoil have produced fuel gas that has almost completely replaced wood as fuel. But recently, these resources are running out; its economic use has begun to be complicated. The coal is extracted at increasing depths. More than half of the extractable oil has already been exploited.

Bioenergetic potential

If we want an immediate practical demonstration of what biomass energy can do, it is enough that we observe ourselves. Animals use biomass energy to move, think, and grow. All living beings use biomass energy innately and naturally. We have also learned to control and exploit it, although not with the same efficiency as nature.

Nature has been developing this energy on our planet for a few billion years. The result is a very efficient energy system. It has evolved specialized energy strategies that differ from one animal to another, from one species to another, from a biome.

Shelley D. Minteer (United States)  in 2003 presented an electric battery that works with sugar, alcohol, or any carbohydrate. The system has particular "fixed" bacteria in the battery electrode. The enzymes of the bacteria can eliminate the sugar and react with oxygen in a reaction of reduction of oxidation (redox). A very famous Japanese company presented a similar application when modifying a fuel cell.

Publication Date: October 31, 2018
Last Revision: November 17, 2020