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Everything you need to know about biomass

Biomass is renewable source of energy that includes different biological material from living, or recently living organisms such as wood, waste and alcohol fuels.

There are three different ways to convert biomass sources into useful form of energy: thermal conversion, chemical conversion and biochemical conversion. All three of these conversion technologies can still improve in terms of cost-effectiveness in order to rival fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

Biomass isn't free of carbon emissions as some proponents say. Some call biomass a “carbon neutral energy source” because in theory biomass sinks carbon out of the atmosphere in the process of plant growth, and returns it back as it is burned. There still hasn't been a general consensus among scientists whether to call biomass carbon neutral or not.

In 2015, electricity generation from biomass across all sectors accounted for 11.3% of renewable electricity generation and 1.6% of total electricity generation in the United States.

Wood is the most common source of biomass used in United States.

The North America's largest 100-percent biomass-fueled power plant is the Atikokan Generation Station in Ontario. This power plant is able to produce approximately 200 MW at full capacity.

According to current estimates, biomass nearly accounts for 12% of the global energy supply. The global biomass power installed capacity stood at 72,571.9 MW in 2013.

Biofuels are renewable fuels that derive from biomass sources. The biofuel list includes solid biomass, liquid fuels and various other biogases.

Ethanol is the most widely used biofuel. It's primary use is as a replacement for gasoline but it is also used to fuel bioethanol fireplaces. Brazil and United States are the two largest ethanol producers in the world. Today, the vast majority of gas stations in America pump gasoline that has 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, a blend known as E10.

Biodiesel is second most used biofuel. Biodiesel is derived from from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled greases. Biodiesel is mostly blended with petrodiesel but it can be also used as pure biodiesel ( B100). B100 is a diesel fuel with the lowest amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Several recent studies have concluded that biodiesel accounts for significantly less carbon emissions compared to standard diesel, in some cases lowering the amount of emissions by more than 50%.

Ethanol and gasoline blended with ethanol burn cleaner and have higher octane ratings than pure gasoline, but they have higher evaporative emissions which contribute to the formation of harmful, ground-level ozone and smog.

The water can contaminate biodiesel, degrading many of its properties in the process. Biodiesel can retain up to 20 times more water than regular diesel and the presence of biodiesel in water can create several different issues such as corrosion of fuel and injector pumps, fuel lines, rotting of the filters, pitting in the pistons, etc. Removing water out of biodiesel is difficult and therefore it is best to prevent the contamination by using all tank caps in place and in good condition, doing the filling of the tanks at the end of the day to avoid condensation when the temperatures cool overnight, using underground storage tanks, avoiding the prolonged exposure of fuel to light since this can induce algae growth

Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) 36 billion gallons of biofuel are supposed to go into U.S. vehicles by the year 2022. As a result, nearly all gasoline now sold in the United States contains some ethanol.

There is often talk about the three generation of biofuels. The first one includes food crops (such as corn), the second one refers to biofuel production from non food sources while third biofuel generation refers to biofuel production from algae. Algae-based transportation fuels produce high energy output with minimal land use requirements. Biofuels from algae would produce considerably more energy for every hectare planted compared to other biofuels and there's also another advantage of algae, namely that they can be also grown on poor-quality lands. However, with the currently available technologies algae-based biofuel production requires more petroleum powered processes than other biofuels. It is also heavy on the use of water resources and emits more greenhouse gases compared with other biofuels.

Many scientists say that world should abandon production of biofuels from food crops given the fact that there are so many hungry people in the world.

Biomass is not finite source of energy like fossil fuels. Plants can be re-grown time and time again on the same piece of land. This means that if we would to use biomass energy sources instead of fossil fuels we would significantly improve our energy security as well as our energy independence.

Producing biomass from waste could help reduce the environmental state of our entire planet. Less waste equals to less pollution.

There are many different biomass technologies that are proven unlike some technologies which include other renewable energy sources. Proven technologies give instant results and have little risk connected with them.

The variety of biomass sources and their availability in almost all corners of the world gives biomass edge over many other renewable energy sources.

The sustainable biomass production is only acceptable form of producing energy from biomass. The unsustainable biomass production (especially from wood) could lead to deforestation and the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The solution to this means focusing on wood waste and imposing very strict regulation on how much wood gets harvested and how is this wood burned.

The food vs. fuel debate is term associated with biomass production from food crops. It is neither ethical nor humane to produce biomass energy from food crops with so many hungry people in the world. It also has to be said that an increase in biomass production could lead to major land requirements which could in the end result in less land to grow food crops. If that were to happen we would likely see major spike in food prices and even more hunger in the world.

Any large scale biomass production needs thorough and careful planning to ensure that there is positive environmental and economic impact in comparison to staying with fossil fuels scenario.

Biofuels could improve energy security and energy independence of many developing countries that would use their domestic resources to satisfy their energy needs instead of being forced to rely on expensive foreign fuel import. The developed biomass industry would also have positive economic impact in form of many new jobs.

To put it as simply as possible biomass power plant works by burning biomass in the boiler and produces heat and electricity in the process. There are numerous power plants across the globe that use both biomass and coal to produce heat and electricity. Using biomass instead of solely relying on coal means reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2012, biomass and waste accounted for about two-thirds of all renewable energy consumption in the EU.

According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 5 billion metric tons of biomass is generated every year from agriculture.

According to US Energy Information Administration (EIA) biomass fuels provided approximately 5% of the energy used in the United States in 2015. Majority of that percentage- 43% comes from wood and wood-derived biomass, 46% was from biofuels (mostly ethanol), and about 11% was from municipal waste.

In recent years biomass technology has advanced enough that biomass power plants small enough to fit on a farm can be built at relatively low costs. Small biomass power plants could become the key for many farmers to become self-sustainable in terms of power in years to come.

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