What Is Biomass?

Biomass is material produced by photosynthesis or is an organic byproduct from a waste stream. In other words it’s stored solar energy. Biomass includes a wide variety of renewable organic materials including forestry and agricultural wastes and residues, urban tree trimmings, food processing wastes, woody weeds, oil-bearing plants, animal manures, sewage, dedicated energy crops and the organic part of municipal solid waste.

We have been using biomass as an energy source since forever but technological advances have taken us beyond simply sticking a piece of wood on the fire to generate heat. Modern biomass energy uses waste that would otherwise go into landfill to create electricity with minimal carbon emissions or the biomass can be converted into a cellulosic ethanol to be mixed as a biofuel.

Using biomass offers many environmental benefits as long as no land clearing is involved to establish energy crops. The major benefit comes from solving waste disposal problems. Recycling, combined with advanced waste-to-energy combustion or gasification reduces the need for landfill disposal. Processing of biomass can lead to improvement to the local environment. Treating waste in an anaerobic digester rather than letting it decay naturally improves the local air quality. The biogas captured can be used as a valuable energy source. Digestion of animal manure kills pathogens with the residue available for use as an agricultural fertiliser. Sewerage effluent treatment prior to discharge to waterways or oceans improves water quality.

You may be interested in the list of biomass power plants in the United States.