Biomass Energy – Burning the Wood from the Trees
Biomass is the biological and organic materials that are used to produce Biofuels for energy production. Biomass crops are produced in nature through a process called photosynthesis were the suns solar energy is used by the plants and other living organisms to produce carbohydrates and sugars. The energy created by the burning of biomass materials is often referred to as bioenergy. Biomass crops which are grown specifically for the primary purpose of being used as biofuels are called dedicated energy crops. The aim of these energy crops is to be as carbon neutral or even carbon negative as possible.
Typical solid biomass energy products include wood and wood wastes, domestic wastes, agricultural crops and wastes, animal wastes, peat, and aquatic plants with the three major forms of biomass energy being Solid Biomass (Wood, Incineration), Liquid Fuels (Ethanol, Biodiesel) and Gaseous Fuels (Landfills, Methane).
Almost any type of combustible organic matter can potentially be used as a renewable energy source. This has led to an increasing interest in alternative forms of bioenergy technology. Raw biomass materials can be chemically or biochemically treated to convert them into a energy-rich fuel such as biofuel, bioethanol, biodiesel and biogas to name a few.
Ever since the harnessing of fire many thousands of years ago, biomass has been used in the home for heating and cooking with the burning of biomass fuels to produce heat being called combustion. In fact coal is just a fossilised form of biomass that has been compacted over millions of years to produce a concentrated source of energy.
Then all fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, are nothing more than ancient forms of biomass originating from dead plants and animal remains.
The potential for using biomass as a bioenergy resource is enormous. With advances in applications of the technology, it is now possible to convert raw organic biomass called feedstock, into various forms of energy, including electricity, heat, liquid or gaseous fuels, and processed solid fuels. To produce electrical energy, the heat from the thermal combustion process is used to create steam, which in turn drives turbines to produce electricity. Most electrical generation of biomass energy is done using direct combustion.
Today there is considerable interest in the combustion of solid biomass as part of a process called “cofiring”. Cofiring is when the raw biomass feedstock in the form of wood chips or compacted pellets is mixed with traditional fossil fuels in power plants for electricity production. Pound-for-pound, biomass has a smaller energy content than fossil fuels so the cofiring process is usually done by mixing biomass with coal, but biomass can also be cofired with oil.
There are a lot of advantages to using biomass energy as a renewable energy resource. For a start, wood and waste materials can be found virtually anywhere, burning solid waste reduces landfills stopping contamination of rivers and clean water supplies. By cofiring with coal in power plants environmental issues such as acid rain and smog are reduced as well as reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
However, the environmental impacts of burning biomass are that biomass production for cofiring applications take up large amounts of cultivated land, which could be used for other purposes such as growing food. Also more plants and trees must be planted to satisfy the demand, because they will be used in a higher quantity.
Biomass Energy is a sustainable source of energy as more trees and crops can be grown to supply the demand, however there is a cost in producing and converting biomass into suitable fuels and generating electricity. For Biomass to be sustainable, large amounts of land are required to grow the trees and crops decreasing the amount of land available for agriculture and food production. Biomass may be one form of renewable energy, but it is not great as solid biomass fuels have a much lower energy content than fossil fuels. There are better alternative energies.
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