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What is Biomass?

April 17, 2013

Renewable energy is typically considered to come from the wind, the sun, or even water (hydro power) but what about biomass?  Biomass is matter we all might consider to be garbage such as dead trees, animal waste, tree branches, wood chips, used tires, and more.  This stuff that nobody wants or has use for can be turned into usable energy…but how?


A Renewable Energy Source

Think about it.  Humans and animals will always produce garbage/waste as long they live.  Because of this, biomass is a source of energy that can never be depleted.  An interesting tidbit is that biomass contains stored energy from the sun because trees and plants absorb the sun’s energy (photosynthesis) to grow.  That energy is passed on to the animals and people that eat them.


Harnessing the Power

Biomass is one of the most plentiful and underutilized source of renewable energy in the world. We have the capacity to generate 43% of the world’s renewable power from bio power but it turns out that we only utilize about 10%.  The most common biomass used to generate energy is wood.  Humans have burned wood for cooking and heating for centuries and this same method is utilized in generating steam which rotates the turbines converting mechanical energy to electric energy.


Other Forms of Energy

Burning wood is not the only way to release energy.  Biomass can be converted into other usable forms of energy, such as methane gas, ethanol, and biodiesel.  Leftover crops, such as corn and sugar, can be fermented to create ethanol and biodiesel can come from leftover food products like animal fat and vegetable oil.

Biomass, in short, literally turns trash into treasure and renewable energy is the best kind because it has the potential to remove our dependence from fossil fuels, which will run out one day.  Researchers are still looking for ways to burn more biomass and less fossil fuels, which would make for a greener future for coming generations.

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