Biomass is currently one of the most popular renewable energy sources in th world and refers to biological material from living, or recently living organisms such as wood, waste and alcohol fuels. The question about whether world should use more biomass or not has stirred some controversies because there are many environmentalists who believe that using more biomass could do significant damage to our climate. Still, when compared to fossil fuels biomass is by far more environmentally friendly energy option.
How is biomass converted into useful form of energy?
Biomass is one of the renewable energy sources that is recently becoming increasingly popular. One of the reasons for this is the large number of biomass energy sources. The most popular biomass energy source is wood, but biomass energy sources also include garbage, waste, landfill gases, and alcohol fuels.
When talking about converting biomass into useful form of energy it is important to explain that conversion technologies may produce the energy directly, in the form of heat or electricity, or convert it to another form, such as liquid biofuels.
There are three basic conversion processes for converting biomass into useful form of energy: thermal conversion of biomass, chemical conversion of biomass, and biochemical conversion of biomass.
Thermal conversion like the name suggests is all about heat, and in process of thermal conversion heat is the main factor that converts biomass into the useful form of energy.
Chemical conversion uses different chemical processes to turn biomass into energy while biochemical conversion of biomass makes use of the enzymes of bacteria and other micro-organisms to break down biomass through the processes such as anaerobic digestion, fermentation and transesterification.
Science is constantly looking for new methods to make these conversion processes more efficient. Currently biomass accounts for about 4% of the energy used in the United States, with wood being the dominant biomass energy source. In years to come this percentage should be significantly higher. At least this is what many energy experts predict.
Is biomass acceptable renewable energy option?
Is biomass acceptable renewable energy option or not? Well this question is certainly becoming hot topic among many energy experts, especially after the recent Massachusetts study and its conclusion that biomass power plants that use wood as fuel are likely to be worse for the climate than existing coal plants over the next several decades.
If we look at the biomass industry in United States we can see that according to federal statistics power coming from biomass represents around 50% of all renewable energy produced in United States, with 90% of biomass coming from wood as the used fuel.
The main problem with biomass is the fact that using wood as the fuel can result in even more greenhouse gases than by burning coal because as critics point out new trees do not grow overnight. Critics also point out that biomass plants create different forms of air pollution, including particulate matter.
Supporters of the biomass say that biomass technology is proved renewable energy technology that can unlike solar and wind energy provide instant results. They point out that the problem of overharvesting can be solved with very strict regulation of what materials are harvested and how are they burned, which would be some sort of sustainable biomass.
The concept of sustainable biomass looks to be connected with many flaws because large-scale biomass industry would require large quantities of residual material to feed the industry, and this would likely lead to harvesting whole trees from tracts or land that never would have been logged otherwise.
If biomass would only be about burning waste wood then this would be an acceptable renewable energy option but waste wood alone isn't enough to support large-scale biomass industry.
Thus, when it comes to biomass as an acceptable renewable energy option we must set some boundaries. Using wood waste is more than fine with me, but anything beyond that destroys too much trees, and we desperately need trees to absorb harmful carbon emissions.