What is Biomass?

Sun Flower

Sun Flower as source of biomass

Biomass, as a renewable energy source, is biological material derived from living. Biomass is matter usually thought of as garbage. Some of it is just stuff lying around, dead trees, tree branches, yard clippings, left-over crops, wood chips (like in the picture to the right), and bark and sawdust from lumber mills. It can even include used tires and livestock manure. Biomass energy may be in solid, liquid or gaseous form, permitting a wide range of applications.

In the context of biomass for energy this is often used to mean plant based material, but biomass can apply to both animal and vegetable derived material. Biomass is commonly plant matter grown to generate electricity or produce heat. For example, forest residues (such as dead trees, branches and tree stumps), yard clippings and wood chips may be used as biomass.

However, biomass also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibers or chemicals. Biomass may also include biodegradable wastes that can be burnt as fuel. It excludes organic material such as fossil fuel which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum. They are not considered biomass by the generally accepted definition because they contain carbon that has been “out” of the carbon cycle for a very long time. Their combustion therefore disturbs the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere.

Biomass is solar energy stored in organic matter. Utilization of plants biomass as energy can reduce the global warming effect compared to the fossil fuel powered plant. The use of biomass for energy causes no net increase in carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Plants use and store the carbon dioxide (CO2) when they grow. CO2 stored in the plant is released when the plant material is burned or decays. By replanting the crops, the new plants can use the CO2 produced by the burned plants. So using biomass and replanting helps close the carbon dioxide cycle. However, if the crops are not replanted, then biomass can emit carbon dioxide that will contribute toward global warming.

Industrial biomass can be grown from numerous types of plant, including miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, sorghum, sugarcane], and a variety of tree species, ranging from eucalyptus to oil palm (palm oil). The particular plant used is usually not important to the end products, but it does affect the processing of the raw material.

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