What is Biomass?
Biomass is as old as man, acting as a source of heating and energy throughout our history. To those unfamiliar, think no further than a wood stove used to heat a home
during the winter, or the campfire cooking the s’mores in the summer evenings. In short, biomass is renewable energy created by plants and animals. This broad definition includes a wide variety of items like; manure, landfill waste, wood/wood pellets, sawdust, corn, sugar, and other plant material.
What you may not know is that Biomass is used as a form of energy production in the United States, contributing to a little under 5% percent of production. Most biomass is converted into energy through combustion, or the material is converted into another fuel source (biofuel). Biomass is the only renewable energy source that can be converted into liquid biofuels such as ethanol (made from corn) and methane (made from manure).
Because of its various fuel sources, biomass is not always consistent in quality or energy efficiency. Biomass also lacks a developed network of farms, refineries and distributors like the larger forms of energy production have. Biofuel is not carbon neutral either. The burning of biomass is like burning of fossil fuels. Some proponents believe the CO2 released when biomass fuels are burned is roughly equal to the carbon stored in trees and plants grown on biomass farms. This analysis makes biomass energy essentially carbon neutral and environmentally friendly. Wood does emit slightly less CO2 per unit of heat produced, compared to coal. However, many biomass combustion facilities are relatively small and inefficient, compared to the typically much larger coal plants. Still, some environmentalists believe that fueling large scale biomass, would have an impact through deforestation, as well as water quality from resource gathering.
Our very first form of heat and energy has a long way to go before it can be considered a reliable source of energy. Experts predict slow production growth in the U.S. for biomass due to consistency and industry support. That being said, there will always be a home heated by a wood stove and including biomass into our diverse energy production will improve our energy dependency and reliability.