About Biomass

energy independence is the goal

Biomass Energy Basics

Biomass The Biggest Renewable Energy Source

It is only a matter of time when oil and coal will be down in the history books titled under “Once upon a time.” So what can we do to change our future? Probably not much, but what we can do is prolong the life of these valuable resources by focusing holding on to something that is more tangible, like biomass. Biomass already plays a large role in renewable energy, more than all other types of renewable energies combined.

Biomass — Renewable Energy from Plants and Animals

Biomass is organic material made from plants and animals. Biomass contains stored energy from the sun. Plants absorb the sun's energy in a process called photosynthesis. The chemical energy in plants gets passed on to animals and people that eat them.

Biomass is a renewable energy source because we can always grow more trees and crops, and waste will always exist. Some examples of biomass fuels are wood, crops, manure, and some garbage.

When burned, the chemical energy in biomass is released as heat. If you have a fireplace, the wood you burn in it is a biomass fuel. Wood waste or garbage can be burned to produce steam for making electricity, or to provide heat to industries and homes.

Sources of Biomass

We have used biomass energy or "bioenergy"—the energy from plants and plant-derived materials—since people began burning wood to cook food and keep warm. Wood is still the largest biomass energy resource today, but other sources of biomass can also be used. These include food crops, grassy and woody plants, residues from agriculture or forestry, and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes. Even the fumes from landfills (which are methane, a natural gas) can be used as a biomass energy source.

Benefits of Using Biomass
Biomass can be used for fuels, power production, and products that would otherwise be made from fossil fuels. In such scenarios, biomass can provide an array of benefits. For example:

> The use of biomass energy has the potential to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Burning biomass releases about the same amount of carbon dioxide as burning fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels release carbon dioxide captured by photosynthesis millions of years ago—an essentially "new" greenhouse gas. Biomass, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that is largely balanced by the carbon dioxide captured in its own growth (depending how much energy was used to grow, harvest, and process the fuel).

> The use of biomass can reduce dependence on foreign oil because biofuels are the only renewable liquid transportation fuels available.

> Biomass energy supports U.S. agricultural and forest-product industries. The main biomass feedstocks for power are paper mill residue, lumber mill scrap, and municipal waste. For biomass fuels, the feedstocks are corn (for ethanol) and soybeans (for biodiesel), both surplus crops. In the near future—and with NREL-developed technology—agricultural residues such as corn stover (the stalks, leaves, and husks of the plant) and wheat straw will also be used. Long-term plans include growing and using dedicated energy crops, such as fast-growing trees and grasses, that can grow sustainably on land that will not support intensive food crops.

Converting Biomass to Other Forms of Energy

Biofuels — Converting biomass into liquid fuels for transportation
Biopower — Burning biomass directly, or converting it into gaseous or liquid fuels that burn more efficiently, to generate electricity
Bioproducts — Converting biomass into chemicals for making plastics and other products that typically are made from petroleum

How Much Biomass Is Used for Fuel?
Biomass fuels provide about 4% of the energy used in the United States. Researchers are trying to develop ways to burn more biomass and less fossil fuels. Using biomass for energy may cut back on waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Sources: The National Energy Education Project, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Other Resources