Biomass is a renewable energy resource derived from human, animal and plant waste. Some examples of biomass are wood, dead plants, animal waste, etc. Biomass is the most ancient and traditional form of fuel or renewable energy known to humankind. The first biomass fuel to be used was wood used to kindle fire for cooking food and keeping warm.
Sources of Biomass
Biomass is basically the organic matter (matter having carbon content) that has energy stored within it. This energy is produced in plants through the process of photosynthesis. It then gets transferred through the food chain to animals and human beings and hence to their waste as well. This biomass stored in plants and animals can be put to everyday use for the purpose of energy generation through processes like burning. Some of the common sources of biomass are:
- Wood: Residual of wood like tree barks, sawdust, unused pieces of wood found from forest clearing and mills.
- Waste: Solid waste from municipal areas (like food, paper, plastics, tire, etc.), Industrial process wastes, Livestock wastes, sewage, etc.
- Agriculture: Starch cropsn(Corn, wheat, barley), Sugar crops (cane, beet), Oilseeds (sunflower, soyabean, mustard), Forage crops (alfalfa, grasses)
- Aquatic Plants: algae, water weeds, water hyacinth, etc.
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Advantages of Using Biomass
Energy obtained from biomass is called biomass energy. It has become a commonly used source of renewable energy within the last twenty years, next only to hydro power for generation of electricity. This is mainly because biomass is an easily renewable and inexhaustible resource. The cost of biomass energy is also very low in comparison with other sources. It is easy to convert biomass to high energy fuel like gas or alcohol, which are efficient, viable and also cleaner than fossil fuels.
The idea behind using biomass is that the plants that produce it can be replenished when they die. The CO2 released during burning is absorbed by the plants that have replaced it. So there is no net CO2 increase in the atmosphere. Biomass production generally means restoration and reuse of waste lands and deforested areas. Commercial use of biomass reduces the problem of waste disposal drastically.
Scope of Biomass Energy
Biomass can be primary source of large scale generation of electrical power. It is always available in abundance and not intermittently like solar or wind power. Biomass can be put to both household and industrial applications. It can be a big source of energy supply in the form of portable fuel like ethanol, bio gas, organic chemicals, etc.
Downside of Using Biomass as Energy Source
Not everything is as rosy as it looks. Planting trees and caring for them to maintain regular supply of biomass is both expensive and time-consuming. Biofuels (fuels derived from biomass) are not as efficient as fossil fuels. Moreover, burning of biomass produces methane gas which pollutes the environment. And last but not least, plant and human waste produces bad odour, which can be unsettling for people living near biomass plants.
As mentioned above, Biomass not only provides a renewable source of energy, it also helps in maintaining environmental balance by taking care of waste disposal. In this age when we need to look at the carbon footprint our every activity leaves behind, we cannot afford to ignore the potential of biomass as an energy source. So we need to weigh its advantages against its drawbacks on a case-to-case basis to use it.